Experts Reveal the 5 Worst Foods for Your Mood

Certain foods can impact your mood. What to eat and avoid to feel better?

Much has been said about nutrition and mental health. We spoke with psychiatrist Lauren Taylor Edwards, M.D., about how food can affect our mood. Edwards is a board-certified psychiatrist who studies the effects of diet and nutrition on mental illness and treatment.

Edwards said diet and mood are linked. Food is more than just a collection of nutrients, and the foods we eat can impact our overall health, including our mental health and mood. Consider an apple and a chocolate bar. Both contain sugar, but our bodies handle it differently. The apple’s natural sugars are combined with fiber, nutrients, and water to slow digestion and increase body usage. Conversely, a chocolate bar is high in sugar and low in fiber, so our bodies quickly consume it. This can cause a rapid rise and fall in blood glucose, causing mood swings and other health issues.

Your microbiome contains trillions of beneficial bacteria. These little guys eat our food and can help us in many ways, from lowering our risk of chronic disease to lowering our stress and anxiety. A diet high in fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and low in added sugars and processed foods may improve gut health and mood.

Other mood-boosting foods? Chocolate (try chocolate-covered strawberries), green tea, and probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kimchi. Then try our mood-boosting recipes like One-Skillet Salmon with Fennel & Sun-Dried Tomato Couscous and Chocolate Zucchini Brownies.

Experts Reveal the 5 Worst Foods for Your Mood - GETTY IMAGES/MARTIN
Experts Reveal the 5 Worst Foods for Your Mood – GETTY IMAGES/MARTIN

Avoid the Following Foods to Improve Your Mood (Worst Foods for Your Mood)

Instead of completely avoiding certain foods (remember, there are no inherently “good” or “bad” foods), consider moderation and balance in your overall diet. I prefer to think about nutrition in terms of patterns and reasoning rather than memorizing good and bad foods, says Edwards. If you want to improve your mood, you should avoid these foods.

Foods that have been highly processed

While you should avoid highly processed foods, that doesn’t mean you should avoid all packaged foods. Food in a package is perfectly fine for many occasions (even according to dietitians). So, think about what you get from your food. In processed foods like candy bars and packaged snacks, there is often added sugar, fat, and preservatives for flavor, texture, and more. They can also harm your gut microbiome. Sorry, but we have a few simple ways to help you cut back on processed foods so you can feel better.

Sweetened Drinks

Edwards advises avoiding sugary drinks like soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks. Sugar in drinks, she says, “makes your blood glucose shoot up (which feels great at first), then plummet down, making you lethargic and cranky.” Simple swaps include lemon water or seltzer. Bonus: Water can help fight mental fog and moodiness.


Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can make you feel more tired and worsen depression after consumption, according to Edwards. Not to mention, excessive drinking can cause oxidative stress, gut inflammation, and sleep disruption, all of which can affect mood.

Intolerable foods

If a food makes you sick, it probably won’t help your mood either (no matter what it is). If you suspect a food allergy or intolerance, see a dietitian or doctor right away. (They might suggest an elimination diet to figure out what’s bothering you—how here it works.)

Grain Products

Bread can be part of a healthy diet if chosen wisely. Grains are made up of three parts: the bran (outer layer), the germ (nutrient-dense core), and the endosperm (inner layer) (the starchy middle layer). While whole-wheat bread contains all three parts, refined grains (like a plain bagel or white sandwich bread) use only the endosperm. Refined products deprive your body of beneficial fiber and nutrients that feed your gut (and brain!).

The Verdict

Considering the gut-brain connection, it’s safe to say that what we eat can impact our mental health. While a healthy diet won’t cure conditions (or might be Worst Foods for Your Mood) like anxiety, depression, or occasional bad moods, it can help reduce our risk by promoting gut health and reducing inflammation.

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