Food and Mood

Imagine you’ve been craving chocolate all day, and finally, after a busy day of work, you treat yourself to a sugary dessert. You instantly feel better.


According to multiple studies, sugar “releases opioids and dopamine and thus might be expected to have addictive potential” (1). These studies have associated sugar consumption to psychological changes in mood (2). And it doesn’t stop with just sugar; all types of food can heavily affect our mood (and vice versa!) via our microbiome, body positivity diets, and productivity & motivation.


Emerging studies on the gut-brain axis highlight the significance of gut bacteria in improving our mental health. For instance, many studies have supported the “link between a dysbiotic microbiota and depression” (3). Therefore, the gut microbiome has been pegged as “a new antidepressant target,” referred to as ‘psychobiotics’ (4).

Psychobiotics contain a mix of various Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species (4), which have demonstrated the ability to “improve mood” and “reduce anxiety” (4). Studies conducting psychobiotic treatments have shown that probiotic-treated participants exhibited “substantially reduced reactivity to sad mood (assessed by the Leiden Index of Depression Sensitivity Scale)” and “decrease in urinary free cortisol” which suggests “reduced stress” (5). Thus, the foods we eat to influence our gut microbiome plays a tremendous role in controlling our mental health.

Body Positivity Diet

In addition to food affecting mood, mood can also affect your relationship with food and vice versa.

It is well understood that strict dieting isn't necessarily feasible for long-term weight loss. For sustainability, what you eat, your eating behaviours and how you internalize those behaviours are crucial. Food and mood are remarkably bidirectional in this regard.

For instance, a study on a weight-loss vs weight-neutral dieting approach highlights the bidirectional relationship of food and mood. Not only did it find notable physical health benefits of a weight-neutral diet, but it also found that this approach nurtured body positivity. Ranging from “size acceptance” to “intuitive eating,” (6) the weight-neutral approach provided a quality alternative to strict dieting that can also help improve bulimia nervosa (7). Therefore, the study reveals that food and mood are interrelated, and that body positivity is a critical theme between the two.

Productivity & Motivation

Eating certain foods have proven effective in improving mental acuity and motivation. Although not an exact science, this suggests the possibility of negating slumps in productivity by eating the right mix of foods in your daily life.

For example, in a study of 500+ college students, eating more fruits and vegetables for breakfast was linked to higher levels of happiness (based on a happiness rating scale) (8). Another study found that young adults exhibited “significant short-term improvements” on their psychological well-being, including “curiosity, creativity, motivation”, after increasing fruit and vegetable consumption (9). Through such studies, we’ve come to understand that food plays a major role in scientifically uplifting overall mood, productivity and motivation.


Although not a perfect, independent case of a cause and effect relationship, there is no doubt that food and mood are related. Perhaps, the next time you are feeling a little blue, try thinking about your food choices to navigate your way around understanding your moods.

Author: Haekyeung Kang, BS, Nutrition and Dietetics, NYU, 2017-2021



(1) Avena, Nicole M et al. “Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.” Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews vol. 32,1 (2008): 20-39. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019

(2) Wiss, David A et al. “Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 9 545. 7 Nov. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545

(3) Cenit, María Carmen et al. “Influence of gut microbiota on neuropsychiatric disorders.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 23,30 (2017): 5486-5498. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i30.5486

(4) Butler MI, Sandhu K, Cryan JF, Dinan TG. From isoniazid to psychobiotics: the gut microbiome as a new antidepressant target. Br J Hosp Med (Lond). 2019 Mar 2;80(3):139-145. doi: 10.12968/hmed.2019.80.3.139. PMID: 30860919.

(5) Sarkar, Amar et al. “Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria-Gut-Brain Signals.” Trends in neurosciences vol. 39,11 (2016): 763-781. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2016.09.002

(6) Mensinger, Janell & Calogero, Rachel & Stranges, Saverio & Tylka, Tracy. (2016). A weight-neutral versus weight-loss approach for health promotion in women with high BMI: A randomized-controlled trial. Appetite. 105. 364. 10.1016/j.appet.2016.06.006. 

(7) Jaslyn A Dugmore, Copeland G Winten, Hannah E Niven, Judy Bauer, Effects of weight-neutral approaches compared with traditional weight-loss approaches on behavioral, physical, and psychological health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 78, Issue 1, January 2020, Pages 39–55,

(8) Lesani, Azadeh et al. “Eating breakfast, fruit and vegetable intake and their relation with happiness in college students.” Eating and weight disorders : EWD vol. 21,4 (2016): 645-651. doi:10.1007/s40519-016-0261-0

(9) Conner, Tamlin S et al. “Let them eat fruit! The effect of fruit and vegetable 

consumption on psychological well-being in young adults: A randomized controlled trial.” PloS one vol. 12,2 e0171206. 3 Feb. 2017, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171206

(10) Firth Joseph, Gangwisch James E, Borisini Alessandra, Wootton Robyn E, Mayer Emeran A. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ 2020; 369 :m2382