June 6, 2022
Brain food: How the food you eat affects your mood
Rachel Wadsley, PhD

Eating good food is necessary for physical health and regulating your emotions. In this article, we will focus on how food impacts mood on a physical level, not emotional eating (a whole different subject).   

The food-mood connection

Numerous studies have explored how food is connected to emotions and mental health. People who eat unhealthy diets consisting of junk food, white sugar, white flour, and caffeine experience higher rates of depression and anxiety. However, participating in exercise can help reduce the negative impact of eating those foods.

Individuals eating diets primarily consisting of healthy food like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, protein, and healthy fats had a significantly lower risk of depression, anxiety, and mental decline. Tossing in exercise further improved how they felt and their quality of life. 

Your gut plays another crucial role in how food makes you feel. The gastrointestinal tract is known as our second brain. It's teeming with billions of healthy bacteria which affect neurotransmitters and inflammation in the body. When we eat processed foods, healthy bacteria (flora) in our digestive tract decline, and harmful bacteria spike. As a result, you feel sluggish, depressed, and anxious. 

How to manage your mood with food

Eat regularly

You need a steady stream of food to supply your brain and body with fuel. Skipping meals or grabbing high sugar content foods spike your blood sugar giving an energy boost but causing a crash afterward. Sugar increases incidences of anxiety, so it’s a good idea to talk with your mental health care provider about the best diet for you. 

Double down on the good stuff

Some healthy foods provide benefits on their own, while others must be combined with regular exercise to receive the full positive effects. For example, nuts that contain healthy fats and can elevate your mood are more effective when combined with mild to moderate exercise. Read our article about using exercise to increase your happiness and kick things up a notch. 

Drink up

Drinking more water is one of the best healthy habits you can create (and it’s free). Not only does water help your body function, but it improves your ability to think and concentrate on tasks. You also drink decaf coffee and tea. Juices will hydrate you, but they tend to be high in sugar which can offset the benefits of drinking more liquid. 

Fruits and veggies for the win

Fruits and vegetables contain numerous vitamins and minerals necessary for overall health. Choose what's convenient for you. This might be a mix of fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruits. If you need some support eating more fruits and vegetables, we have an awesome post about that.

Points for protein

Protein is for more than muscles! Protein contains the amino acids necessary for mood regulation and brain health. Combining protein, complex carbs, and fiber will keep you full longer and your blood sugar stable (avoid getting hangry or nasty emotional crashes). 

Both meat and plant-based proteins are excellent choices. As a vegetarian, I love tossing sunflower seeds on my salad. It doubles as a source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. 

Keep caffeine in check

Raise your hand if you need caffeine to keep your energy level up and get through your day. If you're like most people, your hand shot right up into the air. Enjoying caffeine in moderation is 100% okay. Just keep in mind caffeine gives your body a jolt, so if you have anxiety, this could make your symptoms worse. 

Caffeine is also a diuretic that causes dehydration. Also, caffeine stays in your system for up to 12 hours!!! So that afternoon pick me up can prevent you from getting a goodnight's sleep.

Indulge in healthy fats

Just like protein, your body needs fats to function. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are a core part of health. Eating a balanced diet includes fats, so enjoy some healthy ones like nuts, avocados, lean meats, fatty fish, olive oil, eggs, and dairy. 

Eat the rainbow

Did you know the colors of fruits and vegetables says a lot about the types of nutrients they have? We like to say "eat the rainbow" so you can get the biggest bang for your buck. You'll be helping your emotional well-being while enjoying numerous benefits for your overall health. 


  • Heart health
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Potassium
  • Antioxidants

Yellow/ Orange

  • Immune system
  • Vision
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Potassium
  • Carotene

White/ Brown

  • Heart health
  • Regulate cholesterol levels
  • Digestive health
  • Good metabolism
  • Fiber
  • Potassium


  • Heart health
  • Strong bones/ teeth
  • Vision
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin K
  • Fiber
  • Antioxidants

Blue/ Purple

  • Improve memory
  • Healthy urinary tract
  • Healthy aging
  • Anthocyanin
  • Carotene
  • Vitamin C

Wrap up

The beneficial effects of eating a balanced diet for emotional and physical health appear gradually. This isn't a one-and-done kind of thing. You'll need to build up consistent habits.

Adding more ideal foods, reducing others like caffeine, and incorporating more exercise into your life can take time. Take things nice and slow. Choose one food or drink item to start with. 

CoPilot's coaches are here to lend you a hand. They will help you create a doable custom routine. You will cover exercise, nutrition, and self-care topics, giving you the total package for living your best healthy life. Test the waters with a free trial. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

Start your free trial today!

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