Food and Mood


]There has been a lot of media coverage recently looking at the connection between diet and depression. Recent articles have claimed that eating nothing but...

]There has been a lot of media coverage recently looking at the connection between diet and depression.

Recent articles have claimed that eating nothing but beef cured arthritis and depression.

Let’s look at the connection between food and mood a little more closely.

We know we all have good and bay days and there are certainly some foods we like more than others. Could there be foods that make us feel grumpy?


“Carbs” are a hot topic for discussion especially in terms of weight loss. Diets such at the Atkins DietDukan and South Beach all promote low carb intake.  However, not all carbs are the same – it’s the type, quality and quantity of carbohydrate in our diet that is important.

The ability to concentrate and focus comes from receiving an adequate supply of energy from blood glucose to the brain. Glucose is also vital to fuel muscles. The glucose in our blood comes from all the carbohydrates we eat – foods including fruit, vegetables, potatoes cereals, bread, rice, sugars and lactose in milk. Eating breakfast and regular meals containing some carbohydrate will ensure you have enough glucose in your blood.

Comfort eating

There is a messenger chemical in the brain called serotonin, which improves mood and how we feel. Serotonin is made with a part of protein from the diet (tryptophan) and more of this may get into the brain when carbohydrate rich foods are eaten. This suggestion may explain ‘carbohydrate craving’ when we feel the urge to eat sweet comfort foods to boost our mood. However, there is limited research to show that eating lots of tryptophan or eating lots of carbohydrates can really support mood improvement in humans. However, it may be that not consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates (high protein/high fat diets) leads to low moods.

Many people suggest that eating chocolate can make you feel happier, there are observations that people feeling depressed are more likely to eat chocolate. This could be because chocolate not only smells good it tastes good too. We feel good because of the chemicals that are released in our brain when we have a good experience. Our brain learns what gives us a sense of happiness and pleasure and craves it.  For many people, chocolate can be the primary ’pleasure-maker’. The media is also responsible for promoting chocolate as an ideal gift for celebrations but also as a ‘solution’ to low mood from, for example, a relationship breakdown.

Caffeine the ‘drug’

Caffeine, found in coffee, cola and energy drinks is often referred to as a ‘drug’ as it acts as a stimulant and an increase the feelings of alertness and counter the effects of fatigue. However, drinking it too early and the effects will wear off and drinking it too late can keep us up all night. One study showed that drinking caffeine in the morning only counteracts the effects of caffeine withdrawal that has built up overnight.

“Someone who consumes caffeine regularly when they’re at work but not at weekends runs the risk of feeling a bit rubbish by Sunday,” said Peter Rogers, who led the research at Bristol University. “It’s better to stick with it or keep off it altogether.”

Energy drinks

There are moves to prevent under 18s from buying energy drinks due to the high sugar and caffeine content. Typically, there is 12g of sugar in one of these drinks. The recommended daily amount for a child age 7-10 is no more than 24g of free sugar (free sugar is any sugar that is added to our food and drink. Or the sugar that is already in honey, syrup and fruit juice. These are free as they are not inside the cells of the food we eat). Currently, these drinks are not available to those under the age of 16 in supermarkets but are available at corner shops and from vending machines.

These drinks are attractive to young people, often with brightly coloured cans and appealing brand names that promote a sense of health when in fact they are very unhealthy. They are often priced keenly and are cheaper than a regular soft drink.

Sugar tax

On the 6th April 2018 the sugar tax was introduced; beverage manufacturers are taxed according to the volume of sugar sweetened beverages they produce or import.  Some manufacturers have acted and reduced the amount of sugar in their products. It will be interesting to see if this any impact with patterns of consumption. The tax is applied to the manufacturers so they may or may not decide to pass this on to the consumer.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements

We asked Jackie Keen, Dietitian for her view:

If you don’t eat enough nutrient rich food, your body will lack vital vitamins and minerals, and this can affect your energy levels, mood and brain function. For example, lack of Folate (found in liver, green vegetables, oranges and other citrus fruits, beans and fortified foods such as yeast extract – Marmite and fortified breakfast cereals) increases the chances of feeling depressed, particularly important in older people.

You should aim to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs by eating a healthy diet. Of course, for certain people e.g. pregnant women supplements may be beneficial.

So does food affect our mood?

Some mood/food effects are due to nutrient content but a lot of effects are due to existing associations with foods with pleasure and reward (chocolate) or diet and deprivation (plain foods). Some foods also have religious, economic and cultural significance which will influence how we feel when eating them.

Feeling good comes from a diet that provides adequate amounts of ‘healthy choice’ carbohydrates at regular times. Eating breakfast is a sensible habit. Our diets should also contain a wide variety of protein and vitamin and mineral containing foods to support the body’s functions. As a rule, plenty of fruits and vegetables and wholegrain cereal foods, with some protein foods, including oily fish, will support a good supply of nutrients for both good health and good mood.


If you are struggling with your diet and mood, please talk to your GP in the first instance.  They are a good source of information and guidance and can discuss referring you to a specialist if they feel it is appropriate.



Helpline: 0808 801 0677

Youthline: 0808 801 0711

Studentline: 0808 801 0811

Overeaters Anonymous


0300 123 3393


NHS Choices Live Well

1 in 4 people in England need mental health support*

We’re here to ensure you do not have to face it alone.

If you feel like you need professional help, we’re a private mental health hospital in Windsor with nurses on hand 24 hours a day who provide expert clinical treatment.

You can call Cardinal Clinic on 01753 869755 for confidential help and advice or send us an enquiry.

*McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey.

Read more like this