Consuming a well-balanced food intake and avoiding crash diets will help ensure your brain stays healthy and prevent your mood from dropping. Alongside this, the inclusion of some key food groups which will help to make sure your body and brain are getting everything they need to stay healthy and happy.
So, we came up with a definitive list of the top mood foods to help you feel good.
Let's get into it...
Your brain relies on glucose as a fuel source and consuming carbohydrates will provide this.1 The healthiest options are wholegrains, potatoes, vegetables, fruits and legumes with the lactose in dairy also providing a carbohydrate source.
Low glucose levels may cause a drop in concentration and focus but as long as you have enough glucose for the brain to function properly, you don’t need to eat vast amounts.1 Your activity level and training volume will dictate the appropriate amount of carbohydrates you need to perform at your best or improve your body composition.2 So, never let someone tell you carbs are bad again!
2. Leafy greens
Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will mean your diet will be full of vitamins and minerals. These play a crucial role in maintaining the health and function of your brain and regulating your mood.3 Key micronutrients that may help with your mood include b-vitamins and folate found in leafy greens.3
So, your mum had good reason to demand that you “eat your greens” when you were a kid.
3. Oily fish
Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are a great source of long chain omega-3 fats and there is evidence to suggest that they may help with low mood.4 The NHS recommends consuming one portion of oily fish a week.5
They’re also super tasty, like our salmon pesto bake!
4. Meat, poultry and eggs
Meat, poultry and eggs are all protein sources containing a high number of amino acids. The amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine are precursors for the neurotransmitter's serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline which each play a role in regulating your mood.6
Meat and eggs are also a good source of b-vitamins and especially B-12 which also play a key role in mood regulation.3
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds contain of selenium. Selenium is responsible for a range of roles in the body, with low levels of it increasing the likelihood of negative mood states.7
Brazil nuts are a particularly good source of selenium.8 So, stock up on nuts, they make a great mood boosting snack.
6. Prebiotics and Probiotics
Whilst a relatively new field of research, there’s emerging evidence that the health of your gut or microbiome can affect your mood.9
Without supplementation, foods such as natural yoghurt and kefir are good source of probiotics and ensuring you eat plenty of fruit and veg will mean your diet contains enough prebiotics. Both of which are important for a healthy gut, and boost your mood too!
Caffeine lovers will be glad to hear that this one made the list.
Coffee contains caffeine which is a stimulant which is often consumed as a way to raise alertness and concentration. Caffeine intake alters the expression of neurotransmitters such as adenosine noradrenaline, dopamine and serotonin which may help to improve mood in the short term10.
However, caffeine may also negatively affect sleep and with sleep deprivation impacting mood. So it’s best to avoid giving into any afternoon caffeine cravings if you can.
Tips to improve your mood with food
Alongside eating the foods listed above, ensuring you do not drop your calories too low for too long will help prevent your energy and mood from lowering.11
If weight loss is one of your goals, avoiding aggressive dieting for long periods and consider including ‘diet breaks’. For example, try going for two weeks in calorie deficit and two weeks following a maintenance level of calories. This has also been shown to increase the likelihood of long-term weight loss.12
Eat a Nutritious Breakfast
A key factor in preserving a good mood is the regulation of blood sugar levels.13 Eating at regular intervals is a good way to do this. At breakfast time there will have been a substantial period since your evening meal so consuming a healthy breakfast will help to regulate blood sugar and prevent irritability and a drop in mood.13
Our baked oats are a great option...
Eat the Right Fats
Consuming healthy fats such as omega-3s found in fish and nuts can help reduce the likelihood of low mood.4 Consumption of trans-fats (often contained in fast food options) has also been linked to low mood so it’s best to the limit those to the occasional treat.13
Take Home Message
Ensuring you are eating a well-balanced diet containing the appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein and healthy fats alongside plenty of leafy green vegetables is the best way for your nutrition to help your mood. Performing regular exercise and sleeping properly will also play a big role.
In short, put good food into your body, move as much as you can, and make sure to catch enough Z’s.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
1. Arens U (2018) Authorised EU health claims for carbohydrates and maintenance of normal brain function. In: Foods, Nutrients and food Ingredients with Authorised EU Health Claims – volume 3. Woodhead Publishing
2. Burke, L., Hawley, J., Wong, S. and Jeukendrup, A., 2011. Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), pp.S17-S27.
3. Benton, D. and Donohoe RT. (1999) The effects of nutrients on mood. Public Health Nutrition, 2(3a) 403-409
4. Giles GE; Mahoney CR; Kanarek RB. 2013 Omega-3 fatty acids influence in mood in healthy and depressed individuals. Nutrition Reviews (71) 727-74
5. nhs.uk. 2021. Fish and shellfish. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/fish-and-shellfish-nutrition/> [Accessed 16 February 2021].
6. Rintamäki R., Partonen T. (2011) Dietary Amino Acids and Mood. In: Preedy V., Watson R., Martin C. (eds) Handbook of Behavior, Food and Nutrition. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-92271-3_37
7. Rayman MP. The importance of selenium to human health. Lancet. 2000 Jul 15;356(9225):233-41. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)02490-9. PMID: 10963212
8. Nutritics. (2019). Research Edition (v5.09) [Computer software]. Dublin. Retrieved from www.nutritics.com.
9. Noona, S., Zaveri, M., Macaninch, E. and Martyn, K., 2020. Food & mood: a review of supplementary prebiotic and probiotic interventions in the treatment of anxiety and depression in adults. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 3(2), pp.351-362
10. Ruxton, C., 2008. The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: a review of benefits and risks. Nutrition Bulletin, 33(1), pp.15-25
11. Fagerberg P. Negative Consequences of Low Energy Availability in Natural Male Bodybuilding: A Review. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018 Jul 1;28(4):385-402. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2016-0332. Epub 2018 May 3. PMID: 28530498.
12. Byrne NM, Sainsbury A, King NA, Hills AP, Wood RE. Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2018 Feb;42(2):129-138. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.206. Epub 2017 Aug 17. PMID: 28925405; PMCID: PMC5803575.
13. Nabb, S. and Benton, D. (2006) The influence on cognition and mood of the interaction between the macro-nutrient content of breakfast and glucose tolerance. Physiology and Behavior 87, pp.16-23