Can Food Put You in a Happier Mood?

Laughing group of friends dining in rooftop garden

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Is it possible that chocolate holds the key to happiness?

Believe it or not, there's some scientific backup supporting our favorite comfort foods. Several food compounds have been linked to mood and brain function. While food is not a cure-all for deeper issues like depression or mental illness, there's some evidence showing it could have a real effect on how we feel.

How Food Impacts Brain Chemistry

The terms "hangry" and "sugar rush" describe some of the associations we have between eating and our mood. Many office workers swear by a trip to the vending machine to make it through their afternoon slump. While processed snacks can seem like a quick fix, nutritious foods provide a lasting positive impact on our energy levels and mood.

Dietary modifications for chemical brain imbalances may improve the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and even autism. If you have an underlying food allergy or intolerance, consider adjusting your eating habits to help clear up the common symptom of "brain fog" and boost your concentration levels.

Food Allergies and Intolerance

During an allergic reaction to food, the body rejects and fights against substances in the offending food, as if it is a foreign body. This involves the immune system, along with hormones and neurotransmitters that impact our brain and stress response.

Celiac patients have long reported “brain fog” when they mistakenly consume gluten. Avoiding artificial dyes and flavorings from processed food is a well-established strategy suspected to reduce compulsive behaviors, agitation, and insomnia in those who are sensitive to them.

Once a food or food group is removed, there is always a chance of developing a deficiency that could cause another mood disturbance. Seeing a dietitian to ensure that your current meal plan adequately supplies your dietary requirements is a good idea when adhering to a strict way of eating.

Regulation of Neurotransmitters

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is involved in things like our appetite, mood, sleep, and pain tolerance. With almost all of our body's serotonin being produced in the gastrointestinal tract, it is no wonder that the food we eat plays a critical role in its production and regulation.

Caffeine has a direct effect on the neurotransmitter adenosine by blocking its activation. Because caffeine is naturally found in teas, coffees, chocolate, and other popular foods and beverages, it impacts various brain functions that are associated with adenosine. These include things like memory, learning, and cognition. As a potent stimulant, caffeine certainly impacts mood.

Mood-Boosting Foods

Although dietary needs can vary by individual (especially when dealing with food allergies or health conditions), these are some healthy foods that show promise for boosting mood.

  • Blueberries and blackberries: Both of these berries are rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, which serve to aid your brain function, memory, and mood.
  • Dark chocolate: The sugar, caffeine, and antioxidants in dark chocolate can certainly lift your mood. By stimulating the production of pleasure-inducing endorphins, a little dark chocolate goes a long way.
  • Eggs: High in protein, eggs are made up of essential amino acids that provide the building blocks for our neurotransmitters and hormones.
  • Greek yogurt: This calcium-rich food is sure to help elevate your mood. Without appropriate levels of calcium, depression and anxiety can be exacerbated.
  • Salmon: Fatty fish (especially wild-caught) is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to boost dopamine in the brain and ease depression. 

A Word From Verywell

While nutritious foods are naturally good for your brain health, relying on any type of food to cope with stress, depression, or anxiety is not a healthy long-term habit. If you struggle with emotional eating and frequently turn to food to cope with your feelings, it may be time to consider addressing the underlying issues preventing you from feeling your best and maintaining a healthy relationship with food.

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