How food affects your mood

Blueberries - how food affects your mood - Sarah Tuckett Somatic Psychotherapy

How food affects your mood

5 ways you can improve your mental health with food


If ‘you are what you eat’ then some days I should resemble a giant chocolate-covered blueberry.  This is not going to be a lecture on ‘clean eating.’ We all know that we should eat ‘better,’ but there appear to be a few tweaks we can make to boost our mental health. Here are 5 cool facts on how food affects your mood:


Dehydration increases anxiety and depression

Water is essential for life, but did you know that dehydration increases your risk of anxiety and depression? And that keeping hydrated will improve your cognition (your thinking). That’s because dehydration affects neurotransmitters, cortisol levels, GABA, glutamate, and oxidative and nitrosative stress.  Gadzooks pass me the Mt Franklin!

“In conclusion, degraded mood, increased perception of task difficulty, lower concentration, and headache symptoms resulted from 1.36% dehydration in females. Increased emphasis on optimal hydration is warranted, especially during and after moderate exercise.”  Armstrong et. al 2012

 Although it may enhance your dancing abilities, alcohol will dehydrate you and not only gives you a hangover, it also negatively impacts your sleep, which increases your risk of anxiety by 30% the next day – read more here. 


Your stomach ‘pets’ need feeding 

You have billions of bacteria in your body. Even the mitochondria in each cell is a bacterium.  Billions of them are living in your gut. Some are helpful. Others not so much.

Much like Star Wars, the balance of good and evil is a delicate balance, and this balance affects your ability to synthesise neurotransmitters.

The good news is that you can tip the balance in favour of the Jedi by feeding them healthy (unprocessed) food, avoiding excess sugar, taking a probiotic and feeding them pre-biotics (their fave foods include: garlic, leeks, onion, bananas and more…

Feed your ‘stomach pets’ people. Don’t let the Storm Troopers win.


Protein is needed to make precursors to neurotransmitters

If you needed an excuse to eat more bacon, here it is…. Protein is needed to synthesize neurotransmitters in your gut.

95% of your serotonin (happy hormone) is created in your intestine.  Serotonin affects mood, sleep, appetite, temperature regulation and brain development. 

If you’re not eating enough protein, whether animal or vegan, your body is not going to be able to create the enzymes needed in your gut to synthesise Serotonin. So crack out the vegan cheese (but seriously don’t…)


Food intolerances can impact your mood

When I went backpacking in my early 20’s, my father gave me a t-shirt with an Oscar Wilde quote that said “Only dull people are interesting at breakfast”. It was his (hilarious) way of warning my fellow hostel-dwellers that I was not my most charming at 7am. My family always joked that I was grumpy in the morning. The thing they didn’t know is that they were inadvertently feeding me foods I was intolerant to. Foods that impacted my mood as well as my digestion.

In a 2014 Randomised Control Trial, Peters et. al found

“Short-term exposure to gluten specifically induced current feelings of depression with no effect on other indices or on emotional disposition.”

Other studies point to food allergies increasing symptoms of anxiety and ADHD.

We all know a muppet who pontificates about the latest everything-free diet that they are trying for zero medical reason. But for some of us with allergies, or intolerances, it is a real thing. 

If you notice that your mood is affected after certain foods, it might be worth getting it checked out with a dietician or nutritionist.  (I have several I can recommend if you are stuck for leads).


Inflammation and mood

Inflammation can be created by a poor diet, as well as injury, illness and chronic stress. Inflammation is linked to depression.  In fact, it’s a bi-directional process.  Inflammation in the body can cause depression, and depression can cause inflammation. Read more here.

Foods that fight inflammation include

  •       Tomatoes
  •       Olive Oil
  •       Fruits
  •       Nuts
  •       Fatty fish (e.g. salmon or mackerel)

 You can read more here.

Foods that create inflammation include:

  •       Processed meats
  •       Red meat
  •       Refined carbs e.g. pastries and cakes (noooooo)
  •       Margerine


In conclusion…

What you eat and drink matters because food really does impact your mood. In fact, so much so that there’s a whole new field of psychiatry – integrative or functional psychiatry – that looks at how food affects your mood.

Drink more water than alcohol, feed your stomach pets, get enough protein in your diet and avoid trashy food and this will set you up for better mental health.  And indulge in the occasional chocolate-covered blueberry 😉

Signature of Sarah Tuckett Psychotherapy and Counselling North Brisbane





You might also be interested in

The link between chronic stress, inflammation and depression


Three easy ways to reduce your anxiety:

movement, breathing and your senses.

Sign up today to get access to the free eBook and monthly newsletters.

Related Blog Posts

What to do next

Want more breathing, movement and rest techniques?

Hop on over to the Resources page.