The Food You Eat Can Affect Your Mood

Written By: Beth Ehrensberger, RD

Title: Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Last Updated on:

Chalk up another point for a well-rounded, sensible weight-loss diet. Among other things, it turns out that low-carb diets may be bad for your mood and emotions.

Low-Carb Diets May Cause Depression: The Food and Mood Connection

As reported in the November 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, study participants who followed a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet (such as the MyPyramid plan) had lasting improvement to overall bad mood, as well as to hostility and depression over the course of the one-year study, compared to those following a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. With New Year’s diet resolution season just around the corner, that’s good news – one more reason not to pass up the foods you love to take off pounds.

It’s not uncommon for dieters to experience an initial boost in mood during the first weeks of a new diet – and this research proved no different. During the first eight weeks of the study, both groups (the low-carb dieters and the low-fat dieters) reported a lift in mood. However, after the first eight weeks, it was only the dieters following the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet who showed lasting improvement in mood, feeling happier than before.

The study doesn’t conclusively explain why there was a significant difference in mood between the two groups, but it’s possible that more than one reason is at work. Perhaps dieters find that sticking to a highly regimented low-carb diet in a culture thick with pasta and bread is mood-crushing. Or, maybe it’s the biological systems at work; a low-carb diet can cause a drop in levels of the brain chemical serotonin, and low serotonin levels are associated with depression.

Boost Your Mood with Healthy Weight Loss

Since many people turn to very low-carbohydrate diets for rapid weight loss, it’s interesting to note that there was no difference in the amount of weight lost; participants in both groups were an average of 30 pounds lighter by the end of the year.

With every diet study, like this most recent on food and mood, experts come a little closer to finding the best combination of factors to lead to lasting, healthy weight loss. So if you’re looking to lose weight – and keep it off (and keep your spirits up) – let this research inspire your motivation with these healthy diet tips:

  • Aim for balance: The most effective diets pull foods from all parts of the pyramid – lean protein, whole grain carbohydrates, low-fat calorie dairy, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Concentrate on portion control: Diets that allow you to enjoy your favorite foods in moderate portions make it less likely that you will feel deprived.
  • Think of your diet as a lifestyle change: If your goal is to lose weight and keep it off, the diet you choose must be one that you can live with after the weight is gone. A diet with a very restrictive food plan, like a low-carb diet, really isn’t practical for the long term.

The Bottom Line

Any diet that encourages you to skimp on parts of the pyramid will leave you short on nutrients – and can leave you in a bad mood. A balanced diet with moderate portions from all food groups is a better way to go for long-term weight loss and for your mood.


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