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Food and mood

Explores the relationship between what you eat and how you feel, including tips on how to incorporate healthy eating into your life.

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How can food affect my mood?

Explore the relationship between what you eat and how you feel:

Improving your diet can help give you:

  • positive feelings
  • clearer thinking
  • more energy
  • calmer moods

How regularly do you eat?

If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. You need to eat regularly to keep your sugar level steady, and choose foods that release energy slowly.

Slow-release energy foods include: protein foods, nuts
and seeds, oats and wholegrains.

Quick tips

  • Eating breakfast gets the day off to a good start.
  • Instead of eating a large lunch and dinner, try eating
    smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout
    the day.
  • Avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall
    rapidly, such as sugary snacks, sugary drinks, and alcohol.

Do you get your 5 a day?

Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy.

Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you’ll get a good range of nutrients – several portions of the same type of food won’t be so good for you.

Quick tips

  • Tomatoes, mushrooms and bananas all contain high levels of potassium which is essential for your whole nervous system, including your brain.
  • Try eating some vegetables raw, as cooking can destroy some vitamins.
  • You can learn more about healthy portion sizes at nhs.uk/Change4Life

Do you keep yourself hydrated?

If you don’t drink enough water, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. You might also start to feel constipated (which puts no one in a good mood).

Good drinks include: water, herbal or green tea, or diluted fruit juice.

Quick tips

  • You need at least two pints of water daily to stay hydrated – some water is in your food, but you need to drink the rest.
  • Ordinary tea and coffee don’t count, because the caffeine in them makes you need the toilet. Alcohol and sugary drinks like fruit squash or cola don’t count either.

Are you eating the right fats?

Your brain needs fatty oils (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones.


Good fats are in: oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs.

Quick tip

  • Try to avoid anything which lists ‘trans fats’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in the list of ingredients (such as some shop-bought cakes and biscuits). They can be tempting when you’re feeling low, but this kind of fat is bad for your mood and your physical health in the long run.

Are you getting enough protein?

Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps control your blood sugar levels.

Protein is in: lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), soya products, nuts and seeds.

Quick tips

  • If you eat meat, choose the best quality meat you can afford. Higher welfare meat is much better for you than meat from factory-farmed animals because it has more nutrients and less fat.
  • Whatever your diet, why not do some research into other foods that contain protein, and find something new to try?

How’s your gut feeling?

Your state of mind is closely connected to your gut, not just because of your physical comfort, but also because your gut uses many of the same chemicals as your brain, and communicates with it.

Healthy gut foods include: fibre (in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains), and live yoghurt which contains probiotics.

Quick tip

  • It might take your gut time to get used to a new eating pattern, so make changes slowly to give yourself time to adjust.

Are you having too much caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant. Having too much can make you feel anxious and depressed, disturb your sleep (especially if you have it last thing at night), or give you withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly.

Caffeine is in: tea, coffee, chocolate, cola and other manufactured energy drinks.

Quick tip

  • You might feel noticeably better quite quickly if you drink less caffeine or avoid it altogether.

Are you taking medication?

Some foods can be dangerous to eat if you're taking certain psychiatric medications. For example:

  • If you're taking an MAOI (a kind of antidepressant) you should avoid eating anything which has been fermented, pickled, cured, hung, dried or matured. This is because when food is exposed to the air, a substance called tyramine rises to high levels, and the interaction between tyramine and the MAOI can be very dangerous.
  • If you're taking lithium, you will need to be very careful about the amount of salty foods and liquid in your diet. This is because the amount of salt and fluid in your body can affect your lithium level, and if your lithium level becomes too high it can be very dangerous.

Before prescribing you any medication, your doctor should fully explain any possible risks or side effects, so you can make an informed decision. You might find it helpful to look at our pages on:

 


This information was published in April 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

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