The following is a guest blog provided by Sally Vickers, MS, CHES, and Dr. Mark Long, Ed.D., and Health Promotion and Wellness Department, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center.
Have you ever woken up after a day of unhealthy eating feeling bloated and unhappy?
The connection between food and your mood is a two-way street. Food choices influence your mood, and mood influences your food choices. That’s why it is so important to eat healthy. Nutrient-dense foods, such as 100-percent whole grains, lean protein, low-fat or fat-free dairy, fruits, and vegetables fuel your body and mind in ways that not only optimize your health and enhance your performance, but can help navigate stress and balance mood as well .
Food Choices Affect Mood
Your brain plays a primary role in determining your mood . Chemicals in your brain, known as neurotransmitters, send signals throughout your body that affect your stress level and ability to concentrate . The three neurotransmitters that are most closely associated with mood are :
- Serotonin: promotes a sense of calm and lessens cravings
- Dopamine: sharpens attention and increases motivation
- Norepinephrine: heightens awareness and improves memory
Although additional research is needed, initial data suggests that deficiencies in these chemical messengers can lead to depression, anxiety, and difficulties with sleeping, fatigue, irritability, and apathy. [1,2]
Nutrients serve as the building blocks for serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine . Without proper nutrition, your brain cannot adequately communicate with the rest of your body, which may lead to changes in your mood . For example, processed foods may heighten the risk of developing depression . Research shows that those who maintain a diet of mostly whole foods have lower odds of developing depression . Check out the chart below to learn more about the effects that different nutrients have on your mood. Make sure to identify food sources that you can include in your daily intake to help maintain your overall health and well-being.
Mood Affects Food Choices
Do you eat because you’re happy or sad? What about when you’re bored or stressed? In addition to what you eat, you need to be aware of when and why you eat. Your mood can wreak havoc with your appetite and food cravings, causing you to overeat or make poor food choices . Mindful eating is about paying attention to your hunger cues and your level of fullness. If your mood regularly affects your food choices, talk to a health care professional and check out the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s (HPW) fact sheets on Eating with Food in Mind and the Tracker to Identify Your Food Triggers to help improve your eating habits.
The relationship between food and mood is complex. Proper nutrition can help you navigate stress and stabilize your mood. However, healthy eating is not a substitute for medication prescribed to treat a psychological health concern. If you have a psychological health concern or if you have been diagnosed with a condition, seek medical advice from your health care provider.
 Food and Your Mood: Nutrition and Mental Health. National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. http://www.nchpad.org/606/2558/Food~and~Your~Mood~~Nutrition~and~Mental~Health. Accessed June 2015.
 Brain Basics. National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/educational-resources/brain-basics/brain-basics.shtml. Accessed June 2015.
 Gomez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients of brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(7):568-578.
 Akbaraly TN, Brunner EJ, Ferrie JE, et al. Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. British J Psychiatry. 2009;195:408-413. Available at http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/195/5/408.long. – See more at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/apa2013/you-are%E2%80%94and-your-mood-is%E2%80%94what-you-eat#sthash.vD09kg1s.dpuf
 Vitamin B6. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. Offices of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/. Reviewed 15 September 2011. Accessed June 2015.
 Valizadeh M, Valizadeh N. Obsessive compulsive disorder as early manifestation of B12 deficiency. Indian J Psychol Med. 2011;33(2):203-204.
 Miller, A. The methylation, neurotransmitter, and antioxidant connections between folate and depression. Altern Med Rev. 2008;13(3).
 Beard J. Iron deficiency alters brain development and functioning. J Nutr. 2003;133(5):14685-14725.
 Garg N, Wansick B, Inman J. The influence of incidental affect on consumers’ food intake. J Mark. 2007;71:194-201.