The relationship we have with food is not simply about nutrition; it also reflects other aspects such as social dynamics and the influence on our emotional state. Food serves as an important medium for socialisation, celebration, and connection. Sharing meals with loved ones fosters a sense of belonging and strengthens interpersonal relationships for many. However, for others, it may lead to negative feelings and experiences, especially when considering how posting about our food on online platforms has become a popular way of curating one’s public profile.

Thus, the socio-cultural aspect of food can either enhance our sense of belonging and identity by eliciting validation and positive interactions or create pressure on individuals, contributing to feelings of inadequacy or leading to unhealthy habits as they compare themselves to an idealised image.

The Gut-Brain Axis

Another interesting perspective that may help us better understand the mood-food connection is the neurochemistry that occurs within our brains. Food influences the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a role in regulating mood. Research by Young and Leyton (2002) indicates that certain amino acids found in protein-rich foods can increase the availability of tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, potentially enhancing mood. Furthermore, the gut-brain axis, a bidirectional communication system between the gut and the brain, plays a pivotal role in this connection. Emerging research, as highlighted by Mayer (2011), suggests that the gut microbiota can impact neurotransmitter production and subsequently influence mood and behaviour. A diet rich in fibre and fermented foods can promote a healthy gut microbiome, potentially contributing to improved mental health.

“It’s like a reward!”

Despite this, in times of negative emotions, people often seek out sugary and starchy foods. These comfort foods can trigger the brain’s reward system and lead to a temporary improvement in mood, acting as distractions or ways of self-soothing. These foods can also cause a release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, providing an immediate but short-lived sense of comfort. It is important to note that over time, relying on comfort foods to regulate emotions can contribute to unhealthy eating patterns and negatively impact psychological well-being.

Nutritional Psychiatry

The mood-food connection underscores the intricate interplay between our dietary choices and emotional well-being. From the neurochemical processes that dictate our moods to the comfort foods that provide temporary solace, the psychological aspects of how food influences our emotions are complex and multifaceted. Nutritional psychiatry offers a promising avenue for integrating dietary interventions into psychological treatments, providing a holistic approach to mental health.

A comprehensive review by Jacka et al. (2017) highlights the potential of certain diets, such as the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, in reducing the risk of depression. These diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, all of which provide essential nutrients for brain health. Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins are among the nutrients that have shown promise in supporting mood regulation and cognitive function.

Therefore, food affects mood

As we continue to unravel the mysteries of this connection, it becomes evident that our dietary choices extend beyond physical health to impact our mental and emotional states. By making informed choices and fostering a mindful relationship with food, we can potentially harness the mood-modulating properties of our diets to promote a more positive and resilient mind.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on or call us on 79291817. 


  1. Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., Castle, D., Dash, S., Mihalopoulos, C., Chatterton, M. L., Brazionis, L., Dean, O. M., Hodge, A. M., & Berk, M. (2017). A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 15(1), 23.
  2. Mayer, E. A. (2011). Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12(8), 453-466.
  3. Wansink, B., Cheney, M. M., & Chan, N. (2003). Exploring comfort food preferences across age and gender. Physiology & Behavior, 79(4-5), 739-747.
  4. Young, S. N., & Leyton, M. (2002). The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction. Insight from altered tryptophan levels. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, 71(4), 857-865.