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The Food and Mood Connection

In my years of practice, I frequently meet clients that live stressful lives and may underestimate that stress affects every part of their being. What many people do not realize is that if you are under constant stress, it is going to be a challenge to reach any goals related to health, fitness, and wellness.

When you are stressed and run down, you might reach for that quick fix to boost your energy like sweets, soda, or another large cup of caffeinated coffee with added sugar. You may feel good for the moment, but your back on the roller coaster of spiked energy to crashing again experiencing digestive issues, fatigue, brain fog, anxiety or low mood.

Sound familiar?

What we eat can determine how we feel but how we feel can also determine what we eat. Blood sugar fluctuations and nutritional imbalances may cause mood swings and varying energy levels. Without a steady source of fuel from the foods we eat, our mind and body does not function optimally.

A balance of nutrient-dense foods, a healthy gut and the chemicals in our brains interact to keep us going throughout the day. Below are some helpful tips, but not limited to, improving your physical and emotional well-being.

Improve Your Gut Health

There is good evidence that our diet can affect our emotional health through your gut microbiota. A consistent intake of a variety of whole foods can promote diversity of the gut bacteria that may help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. When there is more balance in the gut (i.e. good intestinal barrier integrity, good diversity of microbes, lower inflammation, etc.), the more positive mental health outcomes tend to be.

Maintain a good intestinal barrier by reducing inflammation:

  • It is always best to limit added sugars and highly processed foods. Try it for 2-4 weeks and you may be amazed at how much better your body and gut feels.

  • Do you have a known food intolerance or sensitivity that may be causing inflammation to your gut? For some people, dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate and cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.

Maintain healthy gut microbes:

  • Eating a diet rich in fiber, colorful plant foods and pre and probiotic foods like onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt may have many benefits for the gut and for the brain.

Enhance Your Serotonin Levels Research about the correlation between the food you eat and the way you feel emotionally continues to evolve. Evidence suggests that “food and mood” but more specifically the gut-brain interaction are linked between the gut microbiome and mental health. For example, about 90% of your body’s serotonin is made in your gastrointestinal tract and serotonin helps your body regulate sleep and appetite, stabilize moods, and inhibit pain. Eating foods that contain the essential amino acid known as tryptophan is a precursor that can help produce the neurotransmitter serotonin in the body. Tryptophan can be found naturally in food like seeds, nuts, eggs, dairy products, poultry, and fish. Keep in mind, it's important to balance your meals because tryptophan is most effective if eaten with proper carbohydrates for helping drive tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. Also other ways such as sunshine and exercise can help enhance serotonin production as well.

Balance Your Diet Pairing lean proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fat helps to slow down digestion for a more consistent release of serotonin and a longer feeling of satiety between meals. Plus, the intake of fiber promotes beneficial gut health benefit

  • Choose good sources of protein (animal-based or plant-based) such as eggs, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, yogurt, or cheese. Protein digests slowly, which helps stabilize blood sugar.

  • Avoid or limit high-sugar foods or refined carbohydrates, such as bagels, doughnuts, or white bread. Replace with complex carbohydrate choices like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which also provide important nutrients and fiber.

  • Omega-3 fats from foods such as wild-caught salmon, ground flax seeds and walnuts have been shown to support brain function and reduce inflammation which may ease anxiety and low mood.

Meal Timing Can Make a Difference

While what we eat can have a significant impact on how we feel, when we eat is equally important. Often the low energy levels that people feel throughout the day are a result of poor meal timing. For example, eating patterns that involve skipping meals may contribute to mood swings by causing fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Food restriction can lead to emotional responses, poor concentration, increased stress, and an overall lower sense of well-being. The optimal way to fuel your body is to space meals and snacks 3 to 4 hours apart and choose a healthy protein and carbohydrate source at each meal.

Listen To Your Body Keep track of how your food affects your mood using a journal. Listen to your body and get in tune with your personal dietary needs. If certain foods give you more sustainable energy, and keep you going throughout the day, make a note of it. You may notice you are in a better mood and have more energy after eating a healthy balanced meal.

Overall, nourishing your body with delicious healthy foods can go a long way to supporting a positive mood. Start with a small change. It might mean a little extra effort, especially with today’s busy lifestyles, but your worth it — so you can feel your best, in body, mind, and spirit.

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Contact me today to schedule a Complimentary 20-minute Discovery Session Call so you can take the next step with an integrative nutritional approach, so you feel like yourself again!

We work together to design a personalized program that focuses on long-term positive changes to your diet to effectively manage stress. This will involve an assessment to pinpoint your nutritional needs that will be the most beneficial for you. As part of your assessment, we will look at triggers and contributing factors, as well as any underlying imbalances. Following this, you will be given a personalized plan to follow, which will also outline lifestyle changes such as physical activity, which will play an important role in stress management for the long-term.


Behavioral Health Nutrition, a dietetic practice group of the American Dietetic Association, 2006.

Clay, Rebecca. “The link between food and mental health,” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, September 2017,

Magill, Amy. "What is the Relationship Between Food and Mood", Mental Health First Aid, March 2013,

MAYER EA. The Neurobiology of Stress and Gastrointestinal Disease, Gut 2000; 47:861-869.

‘Psychiatric Nutrition Therapy: A Resource Guide for Dietetics Professionals Practicing in Behavioral Health Care.’ CD-ROM.


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