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How Food Affects Your Mood

There are a lot of things that can affect your mood – work, family, the weather, and more. But, did you know that what you eat can also affect how you feel? And, no we’re not just talking about indigestion.

According to the nutrition counselors here at Southeastern Med, changes in diet can often have as much impact on your mental health as your physical health. So, which foods should we turn to when we’re feeling blue? And which ones might be more likely to drag us down? Well, as you might guess, there isn’t a perfect cause-and-effect set of food guidelines that apply to everyone, but some of the tips below might help you plan meals and snacks that could put you in a better mindset.

Foods to Improve Your Mood

It’s important to keep in mind that eating these foods are not a cure-all for mood disorders, but they can help alleviate symptoms associated with elevated inflammation and depression.


We all know protein can help us feel full and stay full, but there are actually more benefits than keeping hunger at bay. Protein can help stabilize blood sugar fluctuations and increase the release of dopamine and norepinephrine – these two hormones work to increase your energy and therefore your mood.

You should aim to get 4 to 6-ounce servings of protein 2 to 3 times a day. Some foods high in protein are eggs, fish, grass-fed beef, poultry, tofu, and other soy products.


Have you ever been told to eat more fiber? On top of its ability to help with digestion, it can also help your mood. Fiber increases serotonin production by slowing the absorption of sugar, contributing to stability in your blood chemistry.

Try getting 25 grams of fiber every day. Some foods high in fiber that can help reach the recommended daily intake are flax, avocado, leafy greens, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, berries, coconut, and asparagus.

Vitamins and Minerals

Getting the proper amount of vitamins and minerals is key to a healthy diet. Before upping your intake of certain nutrients, talk with your doctor to make sure you’re getting the right amount of each nutrient and to find out if you should be getting more.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D may be the vitamin most known to affect one’s mood. Low vitamin D levels are associated with depression and anxiety disorders, which makes getting enough vitamin D important.

For an optimal amount of vitamin D, you should eat 800-1,000 IU (International Units – a measure of a vitamin’s potency rather than mass or volume) every day. A few foods that are high in vitamin D include eggs (44 IU), 3.5 ounces of salmon (815 IU), 8 ounces of milk (100 IU), and 6 ounces of yogurt (80 IU). If you’re looking for more options, there are plenty of other foods high in vitamin D.

Another way to get vitamin D is from some good old fashioned sunshine. Just 30 minutes of midday sun can give you 15,000 IU. Due to gray skies, getting vitamin D from the sun during winter can be a lot harder, so you may have to rely more on what you eat to reach the 800-1,000 IU goal.


Folate is an important part of creating DNA and dividing cells, but not having enough folate can raise your homocysteine level, which is found more commonly among patients with depression. Folate deficiencies are not common – most people are able to get the necessary amount from diet alone.

To make the most out of your folate intake, 400 micrograms (mcg) daily is optimal from food and folic acid supplements. A few good sources of folate include one cup of raw spinach (58 mcg), half a cup of cooked lentils (180 mcg), and a banana (180 mcg).

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, like folate, helps aid in DNA creation, but it also helps your cells stay healthy. Vitamin B12 deficiencies are not common and getting enough vitamin B12 can be achieved through your diet.

Aim to get 6 micrograms (DV) daily from food and supplements. You can get vitamin B12 through 8 ounces of soy milk (3 mcg), 3 ounces of wild Atlantic Salmon (2.6 mcg), 3 ounces of turkey breast (1.5 mcg), and 1 cup of non-fat yogurt (1.5 mcg).

Foods to avoid

Not only what you eat, but how and when you eat can play an important factor in your mood. Prioritize regularly scheduled meals and snacks – skipping meals may lead to low discretion at your next opportunity to eat (low discretion is caused by a drop in blood sugar, often creating a biological prompting to eat any food available with little regard for its health benefits).

It’s important to know what foods create instability, in other words: know what foods to avoid. Refined carbohydrates can create instability, so it’s best to avoid foods such as:

  • Candy
  • Soda
  • Fruit juice
  • Syrup
  • Jams
  • White breads
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Cereal
  • Alcohol and other high calorie drinks

Setting Yourself Up for Success

A diet rich in certain nutrients can help alleviate symptoms associated with mood and energy disorders. A diverse plant-based diet supports gut health and therefore “feel good” hormones.

Start your day off by having a healthy breakfast. Breakfast is a great opportunity to include nutrient-dense foods to set you up for good energy and a good mood. Consider a smoothie or vegetable omelet in order to provide yourself with as many key nutrients as possible in the morning.

Remember, before you start tailoring your diet to what you think you need, talk to your doctor or nutritionist here at Southeastern Med to find out if there are any nutrients you should be getting more of.

–Insights provided by OhioHealth registered dietitian Laurie Coleman

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