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Eat your way to a better mood

The food-mood connection is much stronger than one may think. So many of us turn to junk food in times of stress, taking our moods from bad to worse.

Research has shown that emotional eaters tend to eat sweeter, high fat foods, and more energy dense meals. These behaviors can hurt your health by contributing to weight gain and increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer [i].

Just as eating junk can send your mood south, eating healthy can help you feel better.

Here are six tips for eating your way to a positive outlook:


1.  Eat balanced meals and snacks

Start off your day with a healthy breakfast that contains lean protein, whole grains and fruit.


2. Don’t skip meals

Regularly spaced meals throughout the day gives you the proper energy to fuel optimal brain function throughout the day.


2.  Focus on whole grains

Whole grains provide a slower release of glucose into your system, avoiding spikes in insulin and hunger. You know how low you can feel when your sugar crashes.

Choose whole wheat or multigrain breads, rice, cereals and pastas along with beans, nuts, seeds rather than their refined counterparts.


3.  Choose healthy fat

Omega 3 fatty acids are healthy for the brain and central nervous system. Researchers continue to study the link between Omega 3 fatty acids and reduced rates of depression. Research suggests that fish eaters have a lower risk of depression and suicidal thoughts, although results have been inconsistent [ii].

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and plant sources from flax, walnuts, canola oil, and omega fortified eggs.


4.  Get the right nutrients

Although supplementation with micronutrients such as folate, vitamin B12, selenium, and vitamin D have been studied with mixed results, adequate food sources remain important for a well-balanced diet that maintains a healthy nervous system [iii].

  • Folate is found in legumes, nuts, and dark green vegetables.
  • B-12 can be found in all animal products, preferably lean meats and low fat dairy products.
  • Selenium can be found in seafood, nuts (Brazil nuts are a particularly good source), beans, and meats.
  • Vitamin D can be obtained through adequate sun exposure, along with smaller amounts from dietary sources such as fish and fortified dairy and foods.


5.  Limit Caffeine

Got the jitters? Or crashing? Too much caffeine can increase anxiety and cause wild swings in energy levels. As the caffeine addicts out there can tell you, if you drink more than 2 cups a day you should cut back slowly. Try switching to decaffeinated, lower calorie beverages like water, tea, and diluted juices.  Avoid sugary drinks, which can only make the problem worse.


[i] Oliver G, Wardle J, Gibson L.  Stress and food choice: a laboratory study.  Psychosomatic Medicine.  2000, 62(6): 853-865
[ii] Tanskanen A, Hibbeln Jtainen K, Honkalampi K, Hintikka J, Viinamaki, H. Fish consumption, depression, and suicidality in a general population.  Archives of General Psychiatry.  2001, 58(5): 512-513.
[iii] Ford AH, Flicker L, Thomas J, Norman P, Jamrozik K, Almeida OP.  Vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid for onset of depressive symptoms in older men: results from a 2-year placebo-controlled randomized trial.  The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2008, 69(8): 1203-1209.
Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

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