Senior Health

5/19/2023 | By Katy Spratte Joyce

Much has been said about nutrition and how it intersects with mental health. We tapped board-certified psychiatrist Lauren Taylor Edwards, M.D., who specializes in anxiety and stress-related disorders, to learn even more about how the food we eat can affect our mood – specifically, the worst foods for your mood.

Food is more than just the sum of its nutrients, and the food choices we make can affect our overall health. Think of an apple and a chocolate bar, for example. Both contain sugar, but our body processes that sugar in different ways. The naturally occurring sugars in the apple are paired with fiber, nutrients, and water to slow down their digestion and make them more usable to the body. The chocolate bar, on the other hand, contains added sugars and minimal fiber so our bodies burn through it very quickly. This can cause a sharp spike and subsequent crash in your blood glucose, which can lead to mood swings as well as larger health problems in the future.

Instead of eliminating certain foods completely, think about moderation and balance. And if you are looking to boost your mood, these types of foods might be worth limiting.

The worst foods for your mood

1. Highly processed foods

While you should try to steer clear of highly processed foods, that doesn’t mean you have to swear off anything that comes in a package. That said, think about what you are getting from the food. Processed foods such as candy bars, fast-food meals, and packaged snacks can have things like added sugar, added fats, and preservatives. Plus, they can have a negative impact on your gut microbiome.

2. Sugar-sweetened beverages

foods for your mood

Edwards recommends cutting down on having sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, energy drinks, or sports drinks. She says, “Without the fiber of whole foods, the sugar in drinks makes your blood glucose shoot up (which feels great at first) and then it plummets down, which makes you lethargic and cranky.” For an easy swap, try adding lemon to your water or switching to seltzer.

Bonus: Drinking plenty of water can help ward off mental fog and moodiness.

3. Alcohol

Edwards says, “Alcohol is fine in moderation for most people, but it is important to note that it is a central nervous system depressant and can make you feel more tired and can worsen depression after consumption.” Not to mention, drinking too much can cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the gut and disrupt sleep patterns, both of which can affect your mood.

4. Foods that you have an intolerance to

If any food is making you feel physically ill, it is probably not helping your mood, making it one of the worst foods for your mood, no matter what it is! If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, it’s worth making an appointment with a dietitian or doctor ASAP.

5. Refined-grain products

Bread can absolutely be part of a healthy diet — if you choose the right kind. Grains are made up of three parts: the bran (fiber-filled outer layer), the germ (nutrient-packed core), and the endosperm (the starchy middle layer). While whole-wheat breads include all three parts, refined grains (think plain bagel or white sandwich bread) use just the endosperm of the wheat. Regularly choosing refined products over whole-grain ones deprives your body of the beneficial fiber and nutrients that feed your gut (and brain!).

EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at

©2023 Dotdash Meredith. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Katy Spratte Joyce