April 20, 2021

The Intimate Food and Mood Relationship

The Intimate Food and Mood Relationship

The Intimate Mood and Food Relationship

Mood and food, it’s an intimate relationship with important implications for our overall health and well-being. Here's an overview of what you need to know.

Most of us have experienced altered mood states at some time, leaving us feeling less than our best. Altered mood is not the same as having a diagnosed mental health disorder, although these can be related. Altered mood symptoms can be fleeting or temporary, due to illness and stress, or occur with hormone changes and lack of sleep. You may feel fatigued, experience mild depression, feel ‘wired and tired’ or anxious. Many other symptoms can occur including pain intolerance, poor concentration, skin problems or digestive disorders.

Dietary imbalance can have long-term effects on mental health and wellbeing. With low mood and energy comes cravings for instant energy, such as sugary foods providing an instant high. A lack of fresh whole foods can leave us depleted and at risk of craving more junk for an energy ‘quick fix’. It’s a vicious cycle that self-perpetuates – the more junk and less nutrients we consume, the more our mood is altered and the more junk we crave (1).

While no-one denies sweets can be soothing in the short term, if you find yourself a serial ‘comfort food’ eater you could be putting yourself at risk of developing more serious mental health problems. Food high in sugar have been shown to have addictive ability, with similar effects on the brain as some illegal and highly addictive drugs (7). Alarmingly, brain shrinkage can occur with regular consumption of junk food (2). This occurs in a brain area called the hippocampus, which is where mood is regulated. Another effect is alteration of the ‘gut-brain axis’, the major highway transmitting important messages for both gut and brain, including messages affecting our thoughts and emotions (5). When the gut-brain axis is disrupted, we can experience depression, anxiety, stress and low mood. Of course, feeling this way can create more cravings for junk food!

Our gut is an important player in the food-mood relationship. When we eat convenience and junk foods, they can inflame our gut lining. With excess consumption, we can develop prolonged inflammation, damaging our digestive tract which is responsible for nutrient absorption and keeping the ‘bad bugs’ in check. What’s more, if we don’t feed our ‘good bugs’ with healthy foods eventually, we develop an imbalanced ‘gut microbiome’. You can read more about this in our blog titled ‘Mindfulness for the Microbiome’.

Here’s the good news!

By improving the quality of our diet, with more nutrient-rich foods and less junk we can positively impact our mood and overall mental health (3, 4). A recent ‘SMILES ’trial aimed to find out if improving the diet would also improve depression, and found that yes, a healthy wholefoods diet significantly improved depression scores in participants (6). Changing diet to include more wholefoods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, avocadoes, and other healthy fats was shown to have the most mood boosting effects.

So, it’s clear that our food choices have a strong link with our mood. When we feel low, and reach for convenience and junk foods over the long term this can contribute to low mood, digestive imbalance, and risk of more serious mind-body health problems eventuating. Thankfully, evidence supports the use of diet for protecting our gut and brain health. Focus on fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, and healthy fats to boost mind-body health and maintain a healthy life for years to come.

For more information, or an assessment and nutrition plan for your needs get in touch with me, your dedicated 'food-mood-foodie'.

Eat well to live well!

If this discussion has caused immediate concern for you or some-one you know, you can call the following numbers:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636


1.      Zahedi H., Kelishadi R., Heshmat R., Motlagh, M.,Ranjbar S., Ardalan G,... Qorbani M. (2014). Association between junk food consumption and mental health in a national sample of Iranian children and adolescents: the CASPIAN-IV study. Nutrition, 30(11-12), 1391-7. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.04.014. Epub 2014 May 9.PMID: 25280418.

2.      Jacka, F., Cherbuin, N., Anstey, K.J. et. al (2015). Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: A longitudinal investigation. BMC Med 13, 215

3.      Sarris J, Logan A, Akbaraly T, Amminger G, Balanzá-Martínez V, Freeman M,… Jacka FN (2015). International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry, 2(3), 271-4.doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00051-0. Epub 2015 Feb 25. PMID: 26359904.

4.      Zepf F, Hood S, Guillemin GJ (2015). International Society for Tryptophan Research. Food and your mood: nutritional psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry. 2(7):e19. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00241-2. Epub2015 Jun 30. PMID: 26303564.

5.      Carabotti M., Scirocco A., Maselli M., Severi C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 28(2):203-209.

6.      Jacka, F., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial), (201). BMC Med 15, 23

7.      Gosnell, B. (2005). Sucrose intake enhances behavioural sensitization produced by cocaine. Brain Research, 1031 (2), 194-201.

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