Food Mood Swings

Can What you Eat Affect your Mood?

By Charlotte Bradley – Check out all of Charlotte Bradley’s Healthy Lifestyles columns.


Food Mood Swings
We all know that food makes us feel good, both physically and emotionally.  The food we eat fuels our bodies but it also affects our minds.  Certain foods make us feel warm and safe – think comfort food and soul food.As I’m sure you have experienced food mood swings, as this is a two-way street. What you eat affects how you feel and how you feel affects what you eat.  When stressed we tend to overeat or under eat, neither of which is healthy.  Food may be an escape; we eat because it makes us feel better.  Or some people find that stress makes them not want to eat at all, they are too distracted or physically feel ill.The holiday season is pretty crazy for most of us.  Making conscious choices about what we eat during this time may help us feel less stressed.  So how exactly do specific foods affect our moods?


1. The power of association.

We form emotional attachments to food because we associate it with things that have happened to us.  Foods that were a big part of our childhood can bring back memories of that time in our lives.  The aroma of a simmering stew makes us feel like we are backing home in our mom’s kitchen!

This phenomenon is especially strong during the holidays.  A traditional turkey dinner at Christmas brings to mind the warmth and excitement (or any other experience) we felt as children during this time.


2. Serotonin and comforting carbohydrates.

The foods that you eat can actually change the chemical composition of your brain.  This influences you are feeling, your clarity of mind and how alert you are.  For example, certain elements in food are precursors to neurotransmitters which are the chemical messengers that carry information between the cells in your brain.  The amount of precursor available from your food affects the amount of neurotransmitter available to your brain cells.

When it comes to mood, one important neurotransmitter is serotonin.  Serotonin affects our feeling of well-being.  When serotonin is low, you are more likely to feel stressed, angry or depressed.

According to Judith Wurtman, author of The Serotonin Power Diet, “Nature gave us an easy way of harnessing the power of our brain to control our appetite and mood.  We don’t need drugs, or supplements, herbs or pills.  Just by eating the immense variety of carbs on this earth, we can lose weight, feel better, and maybe make everyone more peaceful.”

Eating carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin into the bloodstream.  Insulin clears out all of the amino acids in the bloodstream except for tryptophan.  In the brain, Tryptophan is converted in into serotonin. Some healthy food choices for releasing serotonin include whole wheat bread, cereals and pastas.


3. Protein makes you more alert.

During digestion, proteins are broken down into their amino acid constituents.  One of these amino acids is tyrosine which increases the production of the neurotransmitters norepinepherine, dopamine and epinephrine.  These neurotransmitters are responsible for making us feel alert and energetic.  Healthy choices include fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs.


4. Drink your coffee?

Cup of CoffeeDespite its bad reputation, small amounts of caffeine have been shown to work as an antidepressant.  Do not overdo it though. Experts recommend keeping the dose to one or 2 cups of coffee per day!

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee – A great dining experience deserves great coffee.




5. Folic acid, selenium and fatty acids may help fight depression.

Head of SpinachEat your spinach and drink your orange juice to keep depression at bay. Studies have shown levels of folic acid to be lower in people who are depressed.  Eating foods high in folic acid may help prevent or alleviate mild depression.




Brazil NutsBrazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds and whole-grain cereals are all good sources of selenium.  Studies have showthat people who have low levels of selenium are more anxious.  Increasing levels of selenium helps to normalize mood.



Sockeye SalmonEat fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring as well as omega-3 eggs.  The fatty acids found in these foods are important to the health of nerve and brain cell membranes.  Lack of these fats in your diet may put you at higher risk for depression.  Learn the story of the Pacific Coast Salmon.



6. Protect you memory with eggs and berries.

Eggs and carton

EGGS:  Found in high concentrations in eggs, Choline is a vitamin B complex that is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is linked to memory.  Alzheimer’s patients have been shown to have low levels of acetylcholine.  Eating eggs and other foods rich in choline may help to ensure the availability of acetylcholine to your brain.  Check this informative Egg web page on What’s Cooking America.  It is the main web page on how to cook eggs.



Basket of BlueberriesBERRIES:  Eat lots of berries. Blueberries, raspberries, and goji berries as they all contain high levels of antioxidants which help to destroy free radicals that damage cells.







7. Eating something sweet does make you feel happy.

If you have the control to stop at just one cookie, this may be the quickest way to boost your mood.  Eating foods high in fat and sugar causes the brain to release endorphins which send pleasure signals throughout the body.



8. Eat chocolate to make you feel sexy.

Chocolate BarChocolate contains an exceptionally high amount of phenylethylamine, a stimulant associated with love and sexual attraction.  This “chocolate amphetamine” affects blood pressure and blood sugar levels resulting in a feeling of excitement.  It also quickens your pulse, reflecting the way someone feels when in love.  Check out the interesting and informative article Dark Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate.




Charlotte Bradley

Charlotte Bradley is the publisher of and an avid yoga practitioner.  She was a student of karate for many years and took up yoga only tentatively after the birth of her sons and a knee injury left her looking for a less high-impact form of exercise.  It was love at first pose as Charlotte saw how quickly yoga sped her rehabilitation along.  She also found that yogic relaxation techniques lent her proper focus, bringing balance into her life as well as a greater appreciation for how blessed she truly is.  She lives in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband and twin boys, Charlie and Patty, who keep her on her feet and on the go.  Her golden retriever supervises Charlotte’s yoga workouts from a spare mat, with his eyes closed.






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