Improve Your Food to Better Your Mood

by Ashley Cummings on October 9, 2012

Is it possible to improve your mood with food? — And no, I’m not talking about the temporary happiness you feel when scarfing down chocolate cake or a bag of chips.

Photo courtesy of Pong/

Most individuals, like myself, grab “comfort foods” when feeling stressed or upset, which can also be referred to as “emotional eating”. Comfort foods are high in calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium. Despite what we may think about stress “making us” consume junk food, there is recent research that states, these so called comfort foods can actually make our mood worse.

An article published in the journal, Appetite, analyzed the food intake and mood levels of 44 college-aged men and women for seven days. The study showed that the students reported more negative moods two days after consuming foods higher in calories, saturated fat, and sodium compared to those who consumed foods with less calories, saturated fat and sodium. Carbohydrates were not found to be associated with either negative or positive mood two days before or after consumption.

These findings suggest that nutrients such as high saturated fat and sodium in foods may have an impact on mood, rather than our moods impacting our food choices. However, the study does not include a definition for “high” amounts of certain nutrients.

Additionally, junk food lacks essential micronutrients that our bodies need. Psychological Bulletin published an article titled, “Vitamins, Minerals, and Mood”, which reviewed research that suggests that vitamins and minerals may play a role in an individual’s mood.

The article does not conclude that a deficiency of vitamins and minerals in a diet is the only reason why a person may have a decreased mood, but it may be a contributing factor. The review suggests taking vitamin and mineral supplements to combat the deficiencies. However, making changes such as those from the next section should still contribute to improvements in mood.

How can you possibly improve your mood with food?

1.) Use MyPlate as a tool to make healthful choices at mealtime. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential for optimal health.

2.) Break the habit of emotional eating. An article called, “Emotional eating: Eating when emotional or emotional about eating?” defines emotional eating as “the tendency to overeat in response to negative emotions such as anxiety or irritability” and shows that negative emotions actually do not increase consumption of comfort foods, rather it is just a habit. Here are a few examples of how to break a bad food habit:

  • If you’re used to stopping at a fast food restaurant on your way home from work for a pick-me-up, pick a different route.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables washed and available so they are easily accessible at all times.
3.) Don’t diet. An article called “How visual images of chocolate affect the craving and guilt of female dieters” shows increased desire for the foods being restricted and guilt in women who were dieting compared to those who were not dieting. Instead make healthy choices a lifestyle.

Think about ways that you can improve your food choices. Break habits and aim for balance. You may be surprised by how good you feel.



[Limitations of studies that look at food and mood include the use of subjective questionnaires and have a high possibility of recall bias.]

Adriaanse, M. A., de Ridder, D. T.D. & Evers, C. (2011). Emotional eating: Eating when emotional or emotional about eating? Psychology & Health, 26(1), 23-39. DOI: 10.1080/08870440903207627

Fletcher, B., Pine, K. J., Woodbridge, Z. & Nash, A. (2007). How visual images of chocolate affect the craving and guilt of female dieters. Appetite, 48(2), 211-217. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2006.09.002

Hendy, H. M. (2011). Which comes first in food-mood relationships, foods or moods? Appetite, 58, 771-775. DOI:10.1016/j.appet.2011.11.014

Kaplan, B. J., Crawford, S. G., Field, C. J. & Simpson, J. S. A. (2007). Vitamins, Minerals and Mood. Psychological Bulletin, 133(5), 747-760. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.133.5.747