Mood and Food Posted on February 16th, 2009 by

Increasingly, research is finding a connection between a person’s food intake and mood, behavior and brain function. The human brain has high energy and nutrient needs. Intake of energy and nutrients affect levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters allow nerve cells to communicate with each other and influence mood, sleep patterns, memory, energy levels and thinking.

In his book “Chemistry of Joy”, Henry Emmons, M.D., provides the following recommendations for eating for improved mental heath.

  • Eat calories to meet the lower end of a NORMAL daily calories intake for your height and weight.
  • Eat fats to within 25% to 30% of your overall calories, and avoid eating large amounts of fats in the middle of the day, when they will slow you down, cloud your thinking and set you up for fat cravings later on that night.
  • Try to get most of your fat from healthy fat sources (0live oil, avocados) and essential fatty acids, such as fish oil, safflower oil, flax see, borage or evening primrose oil, and nuts.
  • Refined sugar should be 10% or less of your total calories.
  • Cut back to one to two cups per day of most caffeinated drinks–coffee, black tea, colas, chocolate drinks — and eliminate these drinks entirely if you suffer from anxiety, have trouble sleeping, or are prone to headaches. You might substitute green tea for the other beverages, as it has very little caffeine and offers several other heath benefits.
  • Organize your diet around the following healthy foods:
    1. Complex carbohydrates, especially whole grains (rye and pumpernickel bread, oatmeal, barley, brown rice, millet, spelt, amaranth). beans and legumes (adzuki, black beans, pinto beans, lentils) and root vegetables (onions, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, sweet potatoes). Three or more servings per day, four ounces per serving.
    2. Lean protein, especially cold-water seafood, legumes and soy products (each of which has other health benefits as well). Three servings per day, four to six ounces per serving.
    3. Fresh fruits (including at least one fruit per day that is high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit or a cup of fresh berries) and dark leafy vegetables ( don’t overcook). Five servings per day, one fruit or one-half cup vegetable per serving.
  • Buy fresh, organic, seasonal, locally grown foods if you can afford them. They cost a bit more, but they are worth it. Not only do they taste better, but organic produce is far more nutritious than its commercial counterpart and more likely to contain micro-nutrients–trace elements of minerals that remain in the soil when produced is farmed organically. Your body needs those minerals to facilitate neurotransmission. In addition, organic foods have not been exposed to toxins, which stress your endocrine and immune systems (weakening your brain indirectly) while interfering with your central nervous system ( weakening your brain directly). Locally grown foods are more likely to be fresh, and eating them ensures that you get a wide variety of foods and nutrients.
  • Drink plenty of pure water, at least 6-8 glasses a day
  • Consider taking supplements, especially when you diet is poor, your stress levels are high, or you are suffering from depression.


  1. Lisa Heldke says:

    Interesting to note that our brains and our hearts seem to like similar diets, eh? In the Dining Service, our wallets will like it better too, since the more packaged and processed it is, the more it tends to cost. Then there’s the reduced energy use and waste, when you eat less processed foods lower on the food chain.

    Now, if only we could figure out a way to grow organic, high fiber Twinkies in nature, I’d be happy. (Dang, I love a good Twinkie.)

    • Steve Kjellgren says:

      Ha – I just watched Anthony Bourdain tour the old Twinkie factory in Cleveland – converted to a library of sorts….anyway, there’s still a pipe dripping syrupy goo that I suspect was the base of the lovely cream filling hidden inside the evermoist golden cake finger.

  2. Deborah Downs-Miers says:

    I think there exist somewhere in green cyberspace recipes for “healthy Twinkies.” . . . Maybe on Care2?

    But isn’t it wonderful that avocados and chocolate (dark, of course) are GOOD for us!!

  3. Stacey Gerken says:

    As I have never been a twinkie fan (purely a personal choice), does anyone know of a health King Dong recipe or maybe a Little Debbie Swiss Roll. You notice the common denominator of chocolate.