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How to Eat for a Better Mood

By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD

boy eating cereal

Everyone gets cranky or down from time to time. But if it seems like you’re constantly on an emotional rollercoaster, your diet might be part of the reason.

The good news? “There are lots of tasty foods that can have a positive impact on your mood,” says Cecilia Rokusek, EdD, a dietitian and professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. When you eat those foods can make a difference, too. Use this all-day plan to chew your way to a calmer, happier you.


Don’t even think about skipping this meal. Your brain and body count on calories, vitamins, and minerals to get going in the morning. “If you don’t eat within an hour or two after you wake up, you’re likely to feel sluggish and cranky,” Rokusek says.

Steer clear of sugary cereal and pastries. The sugar in these foods hit your bloodstream fast. That can lead to a short-term “high,” then a quick “crash” that leaves you shaky, irritable, and even hungrier than before (hello, hangry!).

The fix? Go for something with whole grains and a little protein, like Greek yogurt with berries or a whole-grain waffle with a spoonful of peanut butter on top. Protein and the fiber in whole grains both take longer for your body to break down, keeping you going strong for hours.


Rethink your drinks. Coffee, energy drinks, and soda may seem like a good way to bust through an a.m. slump. But the caffeine they have increases adrenaline, a hormone that can make you jittery and irritated. A better choice? Caffeine-free coffee and tea -- and lots of plain old H20. Research shows that you’re less irritable when you’re hydrated, and that makes it easier to focus, too.


Get in the habit. What seems like a bad mood might actually be your brain saying, “Feed me!” “Eating on a regular schedule is crucial for making sure you get the nutrients you need,” says Melissa A. Nishawala, MD, an assistant professor at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center. Translation: Yes, you really do need to have lunch every single day.

Power up with protein. Protein is rich in tryptophan, part of a brain chemical called serotonin that helps you feel calm and happy. Cheese, lean turkey or chicken breast, yogurt, tuna, and eggs are all good protein picks. Be sure to pair them with some healthy carbs (think veggies or brown rice), because carbs also help your body make serotonin.

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