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Self-Care Week: food and mood – are they connected?

21 November 2014

Elaine Sketchley, Staff Counsellor, explores.

Our diet is a crucial component to consider when it comes to taking care of ourselves.

Often when we are depressed and under stress, our diet tends to suffer. We may find it more difficult at these times to take the time and trouble to ensure that we eat as healthily as we can.

Taking this a step further, is it possible that the food we eat can have an effect upon our moods?

We have all heard of ‘comfort’ foods and I’m certain we all have our favourite versions. Sometimes our preferences may be linked to happy memories or perhaps we were given certain food whilst ill or convalescing. In this way food becomes deeply rooted to our emotions.

For instance, when we’re feeling a bit sad and down, we may be more inclined to reach for the carbohydrates and sweet foods and feel less inclined to want light, fresh and more nutritious food, such as fruit, vegetables and salads.

Sugary food may give us a quick lift as they are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, (referred to as high glycaemic index foods.) However, the fast surge of energy soon wears off as the body increases insulin, leaving us tired and low.

Lower glycaemic index foods such as cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruit, contain sugars that are absorbed more slowly, thereby preventing mood swings. These foods also contain Vitamin B1 which has been shown to improve the mood of those experiencing depression.

Concluding that food can affect our mood, let’s take a look at how we can eat in a way that is more likely to enhance our mood, rather than deplete our sense of wellbeing.

Here’s a useful table of some of the nutrients and vitamins we need to keep us feeling good and what can happen, if they are missing from our diet:

Missing Vitamin/mineral Effect on Mood Foods which can help
IRONThis results in low levels of oxygen carrying haemoglobin in the blood resulting in the condition anaemia. Feeling weak, tired and lethargic all the time. The risk of anaemia is reduced with adequate intakes of iron, particularly from red meat, poultry and fish.It may also be helped by avoiding drinking tea with meals
THIAMIN B1, NIACIN B3 OR COBALAMIN B12 (ALL B VITAMINS) Tiredness and feeling depressed or irritable. Fortified foods including whole grain cereals, animal protein foods such as meat/fish, eggs and dairy.
FOLATE Increased chance of feeling depressed, particularly important in older people. Folate is found in liver, green vegetables, oranges and other citrus fruits, beans and fortified foods such as yeast extract (marmite) and fortified breakfast cereals.
SELENIUM May increase the incidence of feeling depressed and other negative mood states. Brazil nuts, meat, fish seeds and wholemeal bread.


As we can see, food can affect the way we feel in many different ways and in turn our mood can influence our selection of the kinds of food we eat. To gain more insight into our eating patterns it can be a good idea to keep a food and mood diary, for a few weeks. This can be a very useful tool to gain greater awareness of our individual eating patterns. For example, highlighting what food we are most likely to reach out for when under pressure. Here’s a printable diary example.

Summing it all up:

The important points to remember are:

  • Eat Regular Meals
  • Get the right balance of fats
  • Choose more wholegrains, fruit and vegetable foods
  • Include some protein at every meal
  • Include oily fish in your diet
  • Make sure you begin your day with breakfast
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain adequate fluid intake
  • If you drink alcohol, keep within recommended limits
  • Exercise regularly


“Plenty of fruits and vegetables and wholegrain cereal foods, with some protein foods, including oily fish, will support a good supply of nutrients for both good health and good mood.”

(The Association of Dieticians BDA Food Fact Sheet.)