Can Food Boost Your Mood?

We’ve all eaten chocolate to pick us up when we’re feeling low, felt joy after the first bite of the perfect strawberry tart, or found ourselves feeling a bit irritable after eating too much junk food. So surely food can affect your mood, right? Read on to find out.


So there is some truth behind the idea that chocolate makes us happy. Eating dark chocolate releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, the body’s natural anti-depressants. Unfortunately for us, the effects are thought to be short-lived[1].

Endorphins are released in times of stress, pain and anxiety to ease symptoms and boost pleasure[2]. They are also responsible for the renowned ‘runners high’, (why you might get that second wind when exercising). We create endorphins naturally in our body, and more are released when we eat[3]. Of particular interest are chillies. The capsaicin in chillies, which makes them hot, causes the brain to think we’re in pain and so releases more endorphins[4].

Why it’s OK to not be eating OK


Serotonin helps to regulate moods, amongst other important roles. It’s created from the amino acid tryptophan, which we get from our diet. Although we can’t get serotonin directly from food, we can get the amino acid needed, most commonly from nuts, cheese, red meat and other protein-rich foods.

Most of the serotonin is released from the nervous system of the intestines and travels to the brain. It’s been shown that a healthy gut microbiome, the ‘good’ bacteria that live in our intestines, is linked to increased production of serotonin[5]. So make sure to have a good intake of soluble fibre from foods like oats, beans, lentils and fruit.


Dopamine has a number of roles, including being involved in our emotional responses. Our body uses the amino acid tyrosine to create the hormone. Curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, has been found to increase levels of dopamine[6].

Low and high GI foods

Meals that contain more low GI (glycaemic index) foods, such as oats, brown rice and wholegrain pasta, compared to high GI foods, are great for sustained energy. They’re digested slowly which helps to maintain concentration levels and can even improve cognitive thinking[7]. Foods with a high GI, including cakes, sweets and sugary foods lead to crashes in energy and end up making you feel tired. You may feel a sudden spike in energy, but it soon dips.

Getting enough nutrients

There are a number of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy, and some of these have an important role in for brain function.

  • Magnesium plays a small role in brain health, although the main job is energy regulation and muscle and nerve function. It’s thought to help with stress and anxiety by increasing levels of some other neurotransmitters[8]. You can top up your magnesium levels by eating foods such as kale, spinach and seeds.
  • Choline also plays a role in brain health. Foods rich in choline are typically eggs, salmon and beef.
  • Chromium is another key mineral which is involved in the production of serotonin. Broccoli and potatoes are high in chromium, along with wholegrain foods such as brown rice and oats.
  • Omega-3s are essential fats that we need in our diet, and a good intake of certain omega-3 fatty acids may also help reduce anxiety and stress[9]. Great sources of omega-3 include oily fish, marine algae, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts.

Guide to fats, carbs, protein, fibre & salt

Keeping hydrated

We’re used to hearing ‘eight glasses a day’, but staying hydrated is really important for our body and mood. Keeping regularly topped up with fluids helps with concentration. Water is especially great as it helps to deliver nutrients to the brain, aiding memory retention, focus and our mood[10].


If you’re struggling to get all your mood-boosting food into your diet, Huel is here to help. It contains all 26 essential vitamins and minerals, including choline, with low GI carbs, essential omega-3s, plant-based protein and low sugar. Perfect for when you want to make sure you’re eating the top quality nutrition you need.

So, there you have it. There are a number of foods which include the vitamins and minerals that could help to boost your mood. The important thing for your health is to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.


  1. PubMed. Immediate effects of chocolate on experimentally induced mood states. 2007. Available from:
  2. PubMed. Biochemistry, Endorphin. 2020. Available from:
  3. PubMed. The effects of nutrients on mood. 1999. Available from:
  4. PubMed. Acute Effects of Capsaicin on Proopioimelanocortin mRNA Levels. 2012. Available from:
  5. PubMed. Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. Available from: 2006.
  6. PubMed. Curcumin modulates dopaminergic receptor, CREB and phospholipase c gene expression in the cerebral cortex. 2010. Available from:
  7. PubMed. The Influence of Glycemic Index on Cognitive Functioning: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. 2014. Available from:
  8. PubMed. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress. 2017. Available from:
  9. PubMed. Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. 2018. Available from:
  10. PubMed. Water, Hydration and Health. 2011. Available from:

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