Nutrition for Mood Support

Though our emotions and stress levels are often influenced by things that happen outside of our control, there are many ways we can have a lot of influence over our moods and how we respond to stress. Did you know that your diet can actually have an impact on your mood? It’s true! We’ll discuss some ways you can change up your eating habits to help support mood and stress response. 

If you have ever gone too long with eating, you know how it can make you feel: low energy and irritable, also known as “hangry.” That feeling usually comes from blood sugar dipping a little too low, which can occur even in the absence of diabetes. Regular meals and snacks keep blood sugar balanced, which means better energy and mood throughout the day.

Mood can also be influenced by certain types of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Chronic stress can affect the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones in your body, which can have a negative impact on your mood and how you are able to respond to stressful situations in the future. 

If you find yourself frequently with that “hangry” feeling or have a tendency to eat more during times of stress, we have some tips that may help keep your mood on a more even keel. 


Keep it balanced

When we are stressed or feeling low we tend to reach for highly refined carbs (i.e. white flour products, such as bread and noodles, as well as sugary foods), . Doughnuts in the morning or chips in the afternoon may give us temporary energy and mood lift, but that will quickly come crashing down with our blood sugar. When planning meals or snacks, make sure to include protein, healthy fats, and carbs with fiber. Eating these balanced meals will keep you off the rollercoaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes. Check out the Brook Healthy Plate for more info or you can reach out to our Health Coaches in your Brook app. 


Building blocks and supporting actors

In addition to eating balanced meals and snacks, having variety will help ensure you have the protein and nutrients needed for making neurotransmitters – essential chemicals for brain health. Some key nutrients to include in your diet – 


  • Protein: Tryptophan is what is used to make one type of neurotransmitter and it can be found in lots of foods such as salmon, poultry, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and eggs. 
  • Vitamin B6: This vitamin is used in the metabolism of neurotransmitters and can be found in high amounts in tuna, salmon, poultry, walnuts, pistachios, chickpeas, leafy greens, and potatoes. 
  • Vitamin B12: Also used in the metabolism of neurotransmitters. Animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs are where most vitamin B12 comes from. If you are vegan, there is some vitamin B12 in fermented or fortified foods, but you may need to supplement to make sure you are getting enough. 
  • Choline: This nutrient is important for production of neurotransmitters. Eggs are a great source of choline, and it can also be found in meat, poultry, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
  • Magnesium: An important mineral that has hundreds of functions in the body, including nerve conduction and cell signaling. You can find magnesium in avocado, beans, almonds, cashews, seeds, dark chocolate, and dark leafy greens.
  • Vitamin D: Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked with mood problems and depression. It isn’t found in high amounts in many foods except for fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, eggs (yolks) and mushrooms. We can actually make this vitamin ourselves by exposing our skin to some sun. Keep in mind, if you live at a more northern latitude you won’t be able to make enough (or any!) during the winter. If you are concerned about your vitamin D level, be sure to reach out to your doctor about whether or not you should supplement.
  • Omega-3’s: These healthy fats are important for brain health and mood, but can become depleted during chronic stress. Not getting enough Omega-3’s in your diet also makes it more difficult to handle stress. Add these fats into your diet by eating chia seeds, ground flax seeds, walnuts, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines.
Beneficial bugs

Everyday we continue to see new research that shows a potential link between the health of our gut bacteria (microbiome) and our mood. Chronic stress can negatively affect your microbiome, so while you are working on stress management, think about supporting your gut bacteria as well. To keep those beneficial bugs happy and healthy, include probiotic and prebiotics foods in your diet. Probiotic foods are foods  that are cultured or fermented like yogurt and sauerkraut, while prebiotic foods, such as banana, asparagus, and oats,  are higher in a type of fiber that bacteria like to eat. We have more tips for improving the health of your microbiome here.

Avoid quick fixes

When we are stressed, we tend to consume foods that might temporarily make us feel good, but these foods may actually cause more damage in the long-term. Try to minimize intake of caffeine, alcohol, and foods high in refined sugar. Both caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep, which can worsen  stress and mood problems. Refined sugars cause an increase in certain neurotransmitters that can trigger overeating. 

Better beverages

Staying hydrated is essential for overall good health. Instead of reaching for sodas or other sugary drinks, have your beverages pull double-duty to provide hydration and help reduce stress. While green tea does have some caffeine, it also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can be helpful for reducing anxiety. Herbal teas such as chamomile, passionflower, and mint are well known for having calming effects. You can brew these teas and drink immediately for a relaxing ritual, or stick them in the fridge to have iced tea you can sip on all day. 

While food may not provide a quick fix to how you feel, over the long-term, these dietary changes can help with mood support and how your mind and body react to stress. Focus on eating regular, well balanced meals, including a variety of foods in your diet, and limiting your intake of refined sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. All of these actions are ones that you CAN control  to influence how you feel from day to day.

Note: While diet can help with mood support and brain health, this advice is not meant to take the place of medication and/or counseling for mood disorders such as depression.

Not sure where to start? Reach out to the Health Coaches to set goals around food, stress management, and more.

Chat soon 💬

Reviewed by Heather King, MS, RDN​, CDE

on May 4, 2020. Heather is a Certified Diabetes Educator, has been a Registered Dietitian for over 12 years and is Brook's Health Director.