How Does Food Influence Our Mood?

Studies suggest that what we eat plays a role in our mental health.


Published:

Fotolia//rh2010

 

When Dr. Michael Hurd counsels patients with anxiety or depression, he often asks what they’re eating. “If it’s not a balanced diet then that’s something to address right there,” says Hurd, a psychotherapist in Bethany Beach. “I would not suggest looking only at diet as playing a role in anxiety or depression, but it’s often part of the mix.”

He’s not the only one to spot a link. Studies suggest that food can influence brain neurotransmitter systems that affect mood—at least temporarily, according to an article in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. The relationship, however, is complex and depends on the time of day, the food’s composition, the amount and the subject’s overall health and dietary history. Nevertheless, many choices that might improve your mood are good for you in other ways.

An ancient approach for modern studies

Hippocrates once said, “Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.” If that’s the case, then you want the best medicine you can find. According to Dr. Eva Selhub, a contributing editor to a Harvard Medical School health blog, the brain is much like a luxury car: it functions best when it gets premium fuel.

Mary Williams, a registered dietitian with Christiana Care Health System, agrees. “There is definitively some link between food quality and mood,” she says.

Bryan Drain began researching how food could influence his mood when he was diagnosed with depression. He became so interested in the subject that he wound up becoming a dietitian. Today he’s a medical nutrition therapist at Beebe Healthcare.

Drain found a correlation between the freshness of his food and his mental outlook. Fruits, vegetables and meats are more nutrient-dense when they’re locally sourced, he says. “They’re not sitting on a truck, or in a freezer or on a shelf for a long period of time.”

Studies of traditional diets in the Mediterranean and Japan—which are high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and seafood—have shown that the risk of depression is 25- to-35-percent lower than the traditional Western diet.

Roller-coaster rides

“Low-premium fuel” includes diets high in processed or refined products. Sugar is a known pick-me-up. But proceed with caution. Even whole wheat toast with organic jam has its drawbacks.

“It’s great for when you need serious fuel—perhaps before working out,” says Liz Abel, a licensed clinical nutritionist and the owner of Wilmington-based Free + Abel. “For others, these food examples are likely to spike blood sugar levels.” A crash usually follows the lift.

Drain, who works with diabetics, is not a fan of pairing carbs with carbs because it’s too easy to overdose on them. A high-carbohydrate item such as a whole English muffin is really two servings and more than a teaspoon of jam is too much.

Abel recommends an afternoon snack of an organic apple and natural nut butter without added sugar or hydrogenated oil. “Use snack time to increase your veggie intake, which we are all low on,” she says.

Coffee is another quick fix that can change your mood—for better or worse. Caffeine interacts with adenosine receptors in the brain—with regulated sleeping and waking cycles—to induce feelings of alertness and energy. Some people, however, get anxious or irritable with even one cup. Even those who tolerate caffeine can get a coffee buzz if they drink one too many. Instead of feeling more alert, they’ll develop brain fog. Once the caffeine is out of your system, you’ll feel fatigue that may prompt you to order another latte—and another.

The ingredients that you add to coffee can also play a part. “I make sure my clients are not addicted to coffee—or the sugar, sweetener, cream or whatever else they are adding to it—then have them use it as needed rather than as a crutch,” Abel says.

Feel-good foods

Like adenosine receptors, serotonin regulates sleep. It also controls appetite and impulse control, and increased serotonin levels are linked to elevated moods.

To make serotonin, the body needs tryptophan, which is found in all nuts and seeds, both of which are also good sources of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Other foods with tryptophan include oysters, clams, pineapple, plums and eggs. The most celebrated source is turkey. You’ve no doubt read seasonal articles that link the Thanksgiving turkey to drowsiness.

Tryptophan, however, must work with other amino acids to create serotonin, and like a recipe, these “ingredients” must come together in a specific order within a certain time period. “Tryptophan, found in food, is one of the amino acids that has to wait,” Abel says. “Researchers are exploring the combination of all amino acids—when eaten together.”

Since more than 90 percent of serotonin levels are found in the gastrointestinal tract, good gut health is a plus, Williams says. “We see a lot of GI doctors ordering probiotics; I think we will see more of that.” Good gut health also means avoiding sugar and processed foods.

Reducing inflammation for mental health

When it comes to treating your mind and body, you can’t go wrong with salmon, which is rich with tryptophan. (For an extra potential boost, pair it with eggs—either for breakfast or in a salad.) Salmon’s nutritional benefits also help balance cholesterol and lower blood pressure, and it’s a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.


RELATED: You Need to Make This Seared Wild Salmon with Shaved Cauliflower Salad


Many think of sore muscles or a bruise when we hear the word inflammation. But when inflammation occurs inside the body, you may feel tired and achy.

A Danish study, published in AMA Psychiatry, found that depression and other mood disorders might be the brain’s response to inflammation. According to the study, patients with an autoimmune disease were 45 percent more likely to have a mood disorder, while any history of infection increased the risk of a mood disorder by 62 percent.

In a Norwegian study of 22,000 people published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants who took cod liver oil were 30 percent less likely to have symptoms of depression than the participants who did not take omega-3 fatty acids. (Walnuts and green leafy vegetables are other sources.)

The benefits of fish might explain why so many people in an informal Facebook poll said sushi was their mood elevator. Rolls often include salmon and come with ginger, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Ginger is closely related to turmeric, which is being heralded as a wonder spice, although studies have been inconclusive, notes Williams.   


A TEAM APPROACH

To see if food can improve your mood, incorporate more:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (certain types of fish, flaxseeds, nuts, leafy vegetables)
  • Tryptophan (bananas, oats, soy, nuts, peanut butter, sesame seeds and lean poultry)
  • Vitamin B (beans, legumes and whole grains)
  • Vitamin D (orange juice and mushrooms)
  • Plant-based foods that are fresh and preferably locally grown

Avoid:

  • Sugar
  • Processed foods (comes already made in a packet, can or carton)
  • Fatty meat and dairy products
  • Refined carbohydrates (white bread)

Keep track of what you eat and how you feel. “Mindfulness is the big theme in psychology and therapy these days,” says Hurd. “It boils down to self-awareness combined with self-respect in how you live your life in the here and now.”


RELATED: What's All the Fuss About Mindfulness?


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View map »


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Website »

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THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE ALUMNI INVITATIONAL A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop, Artist talk at 7:30 PM The...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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TRANSIT by Maryanne Pollock January 27 - April 26, 2018Opening Reception: Friday, February 2, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop On Art:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 5:25 - 6 PM Maryanne...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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Thursday, April 26, 8:00 p.m. Gore Recital Hall David Rose was born in Regina, Saskatchewan and there began his early musical education and violin study. At the suggestion of his first teacher,...

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
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Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Calling all Doodles!  Pack up your owners and head for Dewey Delaware for the Annual DoodlesinDewey ~ a fun filled time on the beach at a low-key "funraiser" for Food&Friends, a DC based...

Cost: $10-25 suggested

Where:
Dewey Beach
Saulsbury St
Dewey Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Food&Friends
Telephone: 301.467.5523
Contact Name: Amy Scott
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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Our thoughts and our stage turn to music, mayhem and marriage with the multi-Tony nominated "The Wedding Singer". Shows are at 8pm on April 27 and 28, and May 4 and 5.  There are 2pm...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

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Night Ranger, the band that invented the power ballad of the 1980s, brings its classic sound to the SugarHouse Casino Event Center on Friday, April 27, at 9 p.m. Tickets for the band’s 35th...

Cost: $29-49

Where:
SugarHouse Casino
1001 N. Delaware Ave
Philadelphia, PA  19125
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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Girl Scout Junior Not just a pretty face! With the Winterthur Garden as a laboratory, earn the Flowers badge while discovering how flowers function and recording your experience in a garden...

Cost: $12

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington , DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information & Tours
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

Maker Fest Enjoy a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. This event features demonstrations from area makers showcasing...

Cost: Admission is $10 for Adults, $5 for Hagley Members and Youth 6-18; under 6 free

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Water is Life Kenya is hosting its annual Water Walk fundraiser Saturday, April 28th at the Newark Reservoir. Funds raised will help complete Water is Life Kenya's clean water project in Kuku, a...

Cost: 10.00-25.00

Where:
Newark Reservoir
Old Paper Mill Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Water is Life Kenya
Telephone: (302) 894-7335
Contact Name: Colleen Leithren
Website »

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Girl Scout Daisy Take a step on your Flower Garden journey during this fun-filled exploration of the Winterthur garden. $10 per girl.

Cost: $10

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 180-044-83883
Contact Name: Information & Tours
Website »

More information

Discover the thrill of printmaking inspired by nature. Using spring plants and simple materials, students will explore the possibilities of organic and geometric compositions with layered shapes...

Cost: $80 Members, $100 Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Calling all Doodles!  Pack up your owners and head for Dewey Delaware for the Annual DoodlesinDewey ~ a fun filled time on the beach at a low-key "funraiser" for Food&Friends, a DC based...

Cost: $10-25 suggested

Where:
Dewey Beach
Saulsbury St
Dewey Beach, DE  19971
View map »


Sponsor: Food&Friends
Telephone: 301.467.5523
Contact Name: Amy Scott
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 28, 2018 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm Wilmington Country Club 4825 Kennett Pike Wilmington, DE   Guests will enjoy a four course seated dinner prepared by award-winning chefs...

Cost: Call for sponsor opportunities.

Where:
Wilmington Country Club
4825 Kennett Pike
Wilmington , DE  19807
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Sponsor: Meals On Wheels Delaware
Telephone: 302-656-6451
Contact Name: Jennifer Halliday

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38th Annual Rare Plant Auction® at Longwood Gardens A benefit that enriches urban neighborhoods through the power of plants. Join us at the 38th Annual Rare Plant Auction® on Saturday, April...

Cost: $125-$600

Where:
Longwood Garden
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Lenny Wilson
Website »

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Clark Wilson from East Liverpool, Ohio, is a favorite and master with silent films.  He is the house organist at the Ohio Theater and has recently been appointed to the Music Department staff of...

Cost: $20 Adults, $10 Students, Groups Call 302-995-2603

Where:
John Dickinson High School
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-2603
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
Website »

More information

Our thoughts and our stage turn to music, mayhem and marriage with the multi-Tony nominated "The Wedding Singer". Shows are at 8pm on April 27 and 28, and May 4 and 5.  There are 2pm...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 28, 8:00 p.m. Loudis Recital Hall Cap off the day-long Steel Band Festival (in Puglisi Orchestra Hall beginning at noon) with the featured festival concert.   There is no...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loudis Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

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