How (and why) food affects your mood

Food that is good for your mood is also good for every cell in your body. The best way to understand how that works, is to shift our perception of how our bodies use food.  Food is much more than fuel or calories. 

Our bodies use the food we eat in the same way that our computer uses software code – food is information.  Our bodies use the information that is in our food to programme all its systems and functions, from the way we balance our hormones, to how we produce energy, to how we fight disease.  Put in faulty information and the body will not have the ‘code’ it needs to function properly, and that not only makes us ill, it makes us feel depressed and anxious.

Basket of veg

Our body uses the information in our food to gauge how safe we are in the world. If we eat the sort of whole foods that our ancestors ate (and which developed alongside our DNA), the body feels safe – it has all the nutrients it needs to function properly. That means our background anxiety levels drop, our hormones are balanced and our immune system is relaxed and competent.  If we eat food that is deficient in the phyto-nutrients, phenols, fatty acids and amino acids we need to survive, or worse, contains molecules that are ‘un-readable’ or toxic to us (I call this ‘broken food’), our body struggles, and this causes levels of inflammation to go up, our immune system to become compromised and our moods to drop.


An important aspect in all of this is the bacteria in our gut which play a very key role in ‘reading’ the information that is in our food. Certain foods encourage the sort of bacteria that produce chemicals that calm and soothe our systems, other foods, like sugar, alcohol and processed carbohydrates, promote the bacteria whose by-products actively undermine our sense of well-being.

In simple terms, the closer a food is to the way it was created in nature, the better it is for us – and that applies as much to animal products as plant products.  Animals that are reared in the open and can eat grass produce meat that is much higher in key nutrients including B vitamins and Omega3 fats (both of which being essential to our sense of well-being) than animals raised via industrial farming methods.

If you take a natural product, like a wheat berry, and process it so that all the fibre and nutrients are removed, you are left with a white powder, flour, which becomes purely starch.  Combine this starch with fructose made by de-naturing corn, fats that have been heat-treated and a lot of sugar you end up with the sort of hyper-processed foods which dominate our super-market shelves.  These are the foods that contain the sort of information that our bodies can’t read – they make us inflamed, unhappy, anxious and ill.
Broken food like this that is high in seed oils and processed carbs is what makes us ill - it is the very opposite of a natural, wholefoods diet.

To eat in a way that supports and uplifts our mood, the trick is to avoid all ‘broken’ food and focus on wholefoods such as vegetables, sustainably raised animal products, wholegrains, fruit and natural fats from nuts, meat, fish as well as fruits such as olives and avocados. All the colour and variety in these foods ensures we get the broad spectrum of micro nutrients that our bodies need to truly function well.

Oily fish is a particularly good choice. It contains high levels of DPA the Omega 3 fat that is especially beneficial for our brain health and which boosts our mood.

Foods rich in B vitamins are also key to our mental equilibrium. Our bodies need B vitamins in order to perform the daily function of de-toxing and if we are stressed our need for these essential nutrients increases. Vitamin B rich foods include meat, fish, poultry and whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat.

Certain minerals are also essential and it is easy for our levels to become depleted.  Magnesium, found naturally in almonds, leafy green vegetables, quinoa, avocado and black beans, is needed for multiple cellular processes that take place every second, and an insufficiency in this important mineral can cause energy and mood levels to fall.

Zinc is another mineral very important to our well-being and essential for our immune system to work. Zinc is found naturally in animal products, fish (especially shellfish), chickpeas, lentils, pumpkin seeds and nuts. In fact eating 2 or 3 Brazil nuts a day is an excellent way to get zinc, and also selenium, into your diet which work in harmony with each other to support general mood and overall health.

And finally, we should not forget the importance of Vitamin D when it comes to our mood.  Essential for gut-health, Vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone that regulates the production of our neuro-transmitters.  We make it in our kidneys after our skin has been exposed to sunlight (one of the reasons we always feel so good just after a holiday in the sun) and it is almost impossible to get enough sunlight in Northern latitudes during the winter.  Small amounts are also available in foods such as oily fish and mushrooms. If in doubt, get your Vitamin D levels checked and supplement if necessary to help support your mood.

The food that is most guaranteed to disrupt our mood is sugar and other processed carbohydrate products made out of flour. The speed at which these foods convert into glucose and enter our blood stream sets up a whole cascade of inflammatory hormonal processes that cause multiple problems throughout our bodies and especially for our mood.  It’s not only the inflammation that affects our mood so badly, these foods trigger the addiction hormone, dopamine, and so they might make us feel good in the short term, but they are setting up for that whole cycle of cravings, bingeing and guilt which definitely does not improve our mood!


The simple rule of thumb when choosing food that will boost your mood is to ask yourself this simple question, “how close to nature is this food?”.  The closer to nature, the better it is for you, the better it is for your brain and the better your mood will be.

If you would like to know more about what you can do to make food choices that will support your mood, book yourself in for a complimentary session to chat about the best choices you could be making.

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