Food for a Good Mood

By: Leah Hechtman, Naturopath, Reproductive Endocrinology and Fertility Specialist

We think, feel and process based on what we eat
Imagine for a minute how your body would feel if you consumed 10 cups of coffee, 1 packet of chocolate biscuits, 2L of diet coke and some tic-tacs. No one would question how this 'diet' would make you feel awful. We instinctively know that what we put in our mouths has a direct impact on our mood and general wellbeing. I have summarised the main mood 'uppers' and 'downers' below but please note that this is a brief look at this comprehensive topic.

Mood uppers
Mood uppers can be summarised quite simply and include the following:

  • Complex carbohydrates:For more immediate (but short-lived) effects, complex carbohydrates such as whole-grains give your body the provisions to manufacture glucose quite quickly. As such, they give your brain (and subsequent emotions) a euphoric temporary and short-lived boost.
    Rule number 1: Make sure that any carbohydrates that are consumed are complex carbohydrates

  • Green tea has a wonderful ingredient called Theanine that is beneficial to assist in normalising anxiety responses and reducing cortisol surges. In this process, it helps to stabilise and 'smooth' mood feelings. Fresh ginger root (especially when sliced into a mug with hot water) assists in stabilising anxiety and panic. Ginger contains chemicals that regulate the brain chemicals GABA and Acetylcholine.
    Rule number 2: Encourage fresh ginger root and organic green tea

  • Protein, protein and then some more protein: Protein provides us with amino acids that are the precursors to neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). As such, without protein we are unable to acquire all of our essential amino acids, which in turn disables our ability to normalise and regulate our brain chemistry. A simple fact is that without protein everyone feels pretty awful. It never ceases to amaze me how when I am able to modulate this simple nutritional component of a person's diet how they are able to begin to feel, think and behave more evenly and with more enthusiasm for life.
    Rule number 3: Always include protein at each meal and ensure that protein requirements are met for energy expenditure (how much activity you do) and your current weight

  • Foods high in Iron, Zinc, B vitamins and Magnesium: are all supportive of stable mood function. Interestingly, these nutrients can be found in animal products all together such as red or white meat. These foods have the added bonus on also being excellent protein sources.
    Rule number 4: Encourage highly nutritious meals rich in Zinc, B vitamins, Magnesium and Iron for optimal brain function and emotional stability

  • Blood sugar stabilising foods - regular meals: The importance of regular meals cannot be underestimated. When we skip meals, our blood sugar levels fluctuate dramatically. The more stable your blood sugar levels, the more stable your metabolism and thus the more stable your brain chemistry. If the brain is flooded with sugar and then has to go through a period of 'starvation' which causes a significant drop in mood.
    Rule number 5: Make sure you eat regular small meals that are free from any of the mood downers

    Mood downers
    All of the typical nasties including caffeine, alcohol, sugar, processed foods and artificial things (numbers, colouring, additives, long chemical names…) are all associated with negative effects to mood. Some of the more specific reasons include:

  • Avoid artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners are essentially bad news no matter how you package them. Firstly, you have the basic effect that these foreign sugar-like molecules go and try to attach to glucose receptors within the brain (and body). In this process they create chemical turmoil as the body tries to use these molecules for normal processes. One of the biggest nasties - phenylalanine - wreaks havoc in the dopamine pathway affecting both tyrosine (an amino acids created from phenylalanine) and to actual dopamine. This is turn has secondary effects on thyroid function (tyrosine assists in thyroid hormone production) and your stress response (dopamine affects adrenaline and nor-adrenaline production and regulation.
    Rule number 7: Avoid all artificial sweeteners

  • Avoid caffeine: Any caffeine junkie can attest that the pure endorphin rush that is created from the first few sips of the morning coffee is terribly addictive. Coffee specifically gives a rush or adrenalin and noradrenalin, and stimulates the production of endorphins and enkephalins (feel good chemicals). In this process we feel euphoric, senses heightened, mood elevated and outlook improved. As we all know, this feeling wears off at some point and then our mood, motivation and outlook comes crashing down. The pattern is to then reach for the next cup of java but intuitively we realise that this will perpetuate the spiral and that perhaps alternate options exist. As someone who knows firmly that coffee simply doesn't like me I am an easy convert as I don't drink the stuff, however, if you are a regular coffee drinker realise that the weaning period is difficult but there are strategies to assist. Additionally, decaffeinated varieties are not the option. When we take the caffeine out of the coffee (or tea) the first issue is how they decaffeinate (what chemicals are used to achieve this unnatural process) and secondly, what is the impact of the other chemicals within this xanthine group and what are their effects? My instinct with all foods is to consume as nature intended.
    Rule number 8: Avoid caffeine and decaf types of coffee, tea, and soft drinks

  • Avoid fat-free diets: Fat-free diets are detrimental to one's health for many reasons; however, the implications of a fat-free diet on mood cannot be ignored. Essential fatty acids such as avocado, cold pressed oils, oily fish, and raw nuts and seeds provide wonderful substances that provide the building blocks for cholesterol which in turn enables the production of a number of key hormones - all associated with positive mood control. Additionally, the actual neurotransmitter receptors (i.e. the sites within the brain the pick up the mood chemicals and enable processing) require high levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) for their structure and function. The concept of neuroplasticity whereby the brain has an ability to repair, restore and regulate itself relies on EFAs for this miraculous achievement.
    Rule number 9: Encourage optimal intake of essential fatty acids including avocado, raw nuts and seeds, cold pressed oils and oily fish (mercury free types)

    © Leah Hechtman, 2011
    Phone: 1300 78 70 66
    E:[email protected]
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    Apr 8 2011 2:56PM
    This is the most beneficial informative research on food I have ever read. Thank you
    Comment by: ellen
    Apr 11 2011 10:10PM
    Thanks Ellen - glad it was helpful.

    Best wishes, leah
    Comment by: Leah
    Apr 13 2011 5:57AM
    I read with much interest your mood food article and am mostly following it already.I can see the relevance of choosing correct types of food and portions.This is a problem for me...portion size.Thanks for the article,great!
    Comment by: toni
    Jun 6 2014 6:00PM
    Loved it thanks for sharing a informative piece to pick right food for better mood
    Comment by: presta
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