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

Margaret October 9, 2012 at 11:08 pm

This is an interesting article, but I was wondering if you came across any food that was helpful for increasing mood? This was an interesting idea, but I left the article wanting more. It is nice to know that comfort food is really not that healthy for you both physically and emotionally. Maybe I will just get some new comfort foods… apple chips sound good.


Ashley Cummings October 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm


Unfortunately, no super food exists…at least not yet. The research I found focused on eating a well balanced diet (consisting of the 5 food groups), that includes foods lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium. I know it’s hard to stay away from comfort foods at times, but maybe knowing that our psychological well-being plays into it will help us resist!


Elizabeth Fryer October 10, 2012 at 8:55 am

I feel like a broken record, but, I’ll say it again, You all need to assess each use of “I” or “me” or “myself” and see if it is essential to the story. Readers don’t care what you think or what you do UNLESS it is pertinent to the point of your post. Your use is “I’m not talking about” and “like myself”—VERY easy to write around, and your writing will have more authority.

PLEASE share this comment with your fellow students.

Ashley Cummings October 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm


Thank you for your input. I agree I probably could have gone without “I’m not talking about” in the first paragraph. However, the reason for adding “like myself” is that I wanted to make the post more personal and show that because I’m writing a post about healthful eating, doesn’t mean that I don’t slip up and have comfort/junk foods too. I will keep your opinion in mind while writing my future posts.


Elizabeth Fryer October 12, 2012 at 1:43 am

Ashley, this is harsh, I know, because I’ve had a prof tell me the same thing, but readers don’t care if you eat junk food or not. This isn’t your personal blog, this is Mind the Science Gap. They want science.

Elizabeth Fryer October 12, 2012 at 1:48 am

I just read the below comment. But, as I said, this isn’t your personal blog. And, if you were going to stick with first-person perspective, we need lots more of it besides I’m not talking about and like myself.

Lauren C. October 10, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Being an emotional and binge eater myself, I appreciate the use of I, me, and myself when reading articles about healthy eating. It makes the reader feel like the author is human and they actually have experience with the topic they are writing about. I think blogging (and inspiring people to change their lifestyle) is all about making connections with the blogger and reader.

Thanks, Ashley!

Ashley Cummings October 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Hi Lauren,

It’s nice to hear multiple perspectives. Thank you for commenting!


Paula Johnson, PhD, MPH October 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I think you did a good job of succinctly getting to the point of the research articles, which I bet readers appreciate. Useful information.
One thing bothered me – the title. It had potential to be very catchy, but I found it to be a mouthful (no pun intended). How about something easier to say like “Better food, better mood.”

Ashley Cummings October 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Hi Paula,

Thank you for commenting! Can I recruit you to assist me with titles BEFORE I press publish? 😉 Being catchy is something I struggle with, and considering the stress of science blogging itself, I try not to over think everything!


Paula Johnson, PhD, MPH October 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Sure. Or maybe you could poll your friends! Good luck.

Debbie H October 10, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I have a hard time eating from all the food groups in a single meal because I get full, even with small portions. Is it just as healthy to have grains for breakfast, protein and vegetable at a meal, fruit as a snack later in the day, etc, hitting the various food groups throughout the day, or are the health benefits greater combining the food groups in one meal?

Ashley Cummings October 11, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Hi Debbie,

Including all the food groups throughout the day should be just as beneficial. The only thing that I may recommend is including a fruit and vegetable at every meal to get the recommended 5-9 servings a day.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!


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