Can Food Boost Your Mood?

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Doctor with healthy food

If you’re anything like me, “comfort food” is a very real thing. I hate to say it, but when I’m feeling bad, it seems like macaroni and cheese will go a long way in making it better.  But what I didn’t realize is that food may very well have an effect on your mood, according to some medical experts. 

A number of lifestyle factors can contribute to depression, but one that’s often overlooked is what you put in your mouth. “Diet plays a huge role in depression,” says with Dr. Christopher Calapai, D.O., a New York City Osteopathic Physician board certified in family and anti-aging medicine.

Do you crave sweet, salty, and fatty foods when you’re feeling blue? You’re not alone. But, says Dr. Calapai “If we eat better foods like lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fish, we short-circuit the junk food cravings and have higher energy levels and sharper mental focus.

Vitamin D (sun exposure; fortified breakfast cereals, breads, juices, milk): Vitamin D is required for brain development and function. Deficiency in this “sunshine vitamin” is sometimes associated with depression and other mood disorders.

“Smart” Carbs Can Have a Calming Effect

Carbohydrates are linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Experts aren’t sure, but carb cravings sometimes may be related to low serotonin activity.

Choose your carbs wisely. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart or “complex” carbs (such as whole grains) rather than simple carbs (such as cakes and cookies). Fruits, vegetables, and legumes also have healthy carbs and fiber.

Tryptophan (protein sources including turkey, beef, eggs, some dairy products, dark, leafy greens): An amino acid, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. It’s not well understood, but low tryptophan seems to trigger depressive symptoms in some people who have taken antidepressants.

Increase your intake of B vitamins

People with either low blood levels of the B-vitamin folic acid, or high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine (a sign that you are not getting enough B6, B12 or folic acid), are both more likely to be depressed and less likely to get a positive result from anti-depressant drugs. In a study comparing the effects of giving an SSRI with either a placebo or with folic acid, 61% of patients improved on the placebo combination but 93% improved with the addition of folic acid.

Boost your serotonin with amino acids

Serotonin is made in the body and brain from an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is then converted into another amino acid called 5-Hydroxy Tryptophan (5-HTP), which in turn is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Tryptophan can be found in the diet; it’s in many protein rich foods such as meat, fish, beans and eggs. 5-HTP is found in high levels in the African Griffonia bean, but this bean is not a common feature of most people’s diet. Just not getting enough tryptophan is likely to make you depressed; people fed food deficient in tryptophan became rapidly depressed within hours.

Up your intake of chromium

This mineral is vital for keeping your blood sugar level stable because insulin, which clears glucose from the blood, can’t work properly without it. In fact it turns out that just supplying proper levels of chromium to people with atypical depression can make a big difference.

Select Selenium-Rich Foods

Studies have reported a link between low selenium and poor moods. The recommended amount for selenium is 55 micrograms a day for adults.

Evidence isn’t clear that taking supplements can help. And it’s possible to get too much selenium. So it’s probably best to focus on foods:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Lean meat (lean pork and beef, skinless chicken and turkey)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Nuts and seeds (particularly brazil nuts – but no more than one or two a day because of their high selenium content)
  • Seafood (oysters, clams, sardines, crab, saltwater fish, and freshwater fish)
  • Whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.)

Caffeine and Sugary Foods

Caffeine may be difficult for many people to completely eliminate from their diet. However, it is good to only have caffeinated drinks in moderation, particularly when you are experiencing depression-like symptoms. Caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns and make you feel anxious, both of which won’t help your depression. People who drink more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, the equivalent of four cups of brewed coffee, should consider cutting back.

Dr. Christopher Calapai, D.O. is an Osteopathic Physician board certified in family medicine, and anti-aging medicine. Proclaimed as the “The Stem Cell Guru” by the New York Daily News, Dr. Calapai is a leader in the field of stem cell therapy in the U.S. His stem cell treatments have achieved remarkable results in clinical trials on patients with conditions as varied as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, frailty syndrome, heart, kidney and liver failure, lupus, MS and Parkinson’s. Dr. Calapai received his medical degree from New York College of Osteopathic Medicine and he consults in Manhattan with practices on Long Island, in East Meadow and Plainview. He has appeared on News12 and in the pages of 25A Magazine and Social Life Magazine. He is the author of E-books Heavy Metals and Chronic Disease, Reverse Diabetes Forever! Seven Steps to Healthy Blood Sugar, Top Ten Supplements You Can’t Live Without, and Glorious Glutathione. Learn more about Dr. Calapai on his website:

How do you help control your health with the foods you eat?


  1. My Teen Guide says

    This is good information to know. It is surprising that a decrease in the amount of these trace elements in our bodies can affect your mood. I will take note of food that I need to include in my diet to avoid the physiological manifestations.

  2. says

    This is really helpful information! I know that I feel better when I eat healthy, but I never thought to eat certain foods that help boost my mood. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Annemarie LeBlanc says

    I have to check my multivitamin-mineral preparation and see if it contains these trace elements. Its either I change my supplements of eat more food rich in these.

  4. says

    I know food can impact a person’s mood but it’s different for everyone. If I am dealing with depression I d reach for certain comfort foods but the food doesn’t comfort me, it’s stuffing the food down that is akin to stuffing feelings down.

  5. says

    Very rightly said – Diet plays a huge role in depression. If someone is feeling depressed or insecure, they tend to eat more and stuff a lot of chocolates and carbs and ice creams which sometimes is not good for your health. It is tough to control and keep up good health. It has to come from within – the determination.

  6. Pam says

    B vitamins are so important. When I get depressed it’s usually because I am deficient in b vitamins or in vitamin d.

  7. says

    I know I feel better when I eat healthier and make sure I get enough water every day. And I try not to eat much sugar because I always end up feeling blah.

  8. says

    I am starting on a weight loss journey and this is great information! As a nursing mom I am always thinking about nutrition. I always make sure I get enough vitamin D and B!

  9. says

    I am a firm believer or that food can affect a whole lot of your body. Healthier foods seem to give me more energy and more positive flow then when I would have if I a lot of junk food. This is a great article.

  10. Anita Anderson says

    I try to incorporate a different food from the pyramid food groups. I love to have my plate look like a rainbow of different foods and veggies.

  11. says

    This was very interesting to read. Food can of course effect everything in your life. If I eat nothing but junk food my body is going to tell me about the bad effects. So sad we don’t listen.

  12. robin rue says

    I know when I am in a bad mood and devour a cheeseburger, I suddenly feel much happier. Does that count? LOL.

  13. says

    This is a really interesting post, I have very low Vit D levels (I have to take supplements) and I can certainly tell in my mood as well as pain levels should they drop.

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