Expert Q&A

Moods: Can food improve your mental health?

Do you have any suggestions for controlling moods and mental health through diet?

-Pilar from Washington

If you experience crankiness, fatigue and mild depression, you may be able to boost your mood by changing what and when you eat. Here are some tips:

  • Eat approximately every four to five hours to provide your body with a constant source of fuel (energy) and nutrients.
  • Limit your intake of refined or “sugary” carbohydrates such as soda, candy, fruit juice, jam and syrup, which can create spikes (and drops) in your blood sugar.
  • Avoid white starchy foods (refined carbohydrates) like crackers, bagels and rice. They are metabolized into sugar quickly and cause the same effect on blood sugars as sweets.
  • Eat high-quality carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, brown rice and oatmeal.
  • Consume soluble fiber-rich foods to slow down the absorption of sugar in your blood such as barley, apples, pears, strawberries, sweet potatoes and legumes.
  • Incorporate protein into each meal and snack to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates into your bloodstream, which will keep you energized, upbeat and productive longer.

Omega-3 fats to lift your mood

There are specific nutrients that may play a role in brain health. Some scientific research has supported the ability of omega-3 fats to be mood lifting and possibly alleviate depression.

  • Add foods rich in omega-3 fats to your diet, including oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), ground flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs.

Vitamins to normalize your mood

Studies have also shown that low blood levels of either of folate and vitamin B12 may be related to depression. These vitamins are believed to be used by the body to create serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that help normalize mood.

  • Consume foods rich in these vitamins such as fortified whole-grain cereals, dark green, leafy veggies, beans, oatmeal, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, oranges, shellfish, wild salmon, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat dairy and eggs.

Vitamin D might help relieve mood disorders because it seems to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain.

  • Foods rich in vitamin D include fish with bones, fat free/low-fat milk, fortified soy milk and egg yolks. Because vitamin D-rich foods are limited, make sure that your daily multivitamin provides 400 IU of vitamin D.

If you suffer from any mood disorder, it is important to follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations and if you experience serious anxiety and/or depression that stays or worsens, see your doctor for the proper diagnosis right away. Always speak with your physician before starting with supplements.


“How food benefits mood.” BBC Health News, September 2002. Available online at:

“Fish oil Eases Depression.” WebMD Health News. Accessible online at:

Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN
Contributing Expert

Have a question for our Experts? Send it in!