Food and Mood

I love food. I have a lovely meal as a reward, I eat when I am sad, when a friend is coming over – I panic about what I will offer them to eat…

When I finish lunch I think about what am I going to have for dinner, I look forward to my weekly food shopping on Tuesdays after work.

I love food but I have also become aware that this love is complicated – my anxieties are highlighted where food is concerned. As we observe Mental Health awareness this month in South Africa, I am trying to explore the relationship between food and my anxious mood.  


The study of Nutritional Psychiatry is fairly new and described as “a field of research focused on developing a comprehensive, cohesive and scientifically rigorous evidence base to support a shift in thinking around the role of diet and nutrition in mental health”.

Although the science is still in the early stages, researchers have observed that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain. Inflammation in certain parts of our bodies has long been linked to foods we eat; the old adage “you are what you eat” comes to mind.

“Recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s”.Nutritional psychiatry: the present state of the evidence.

Anxiety has become part of our daily lives. Whether it’s thinking about navigating the traffic or the social event coming up on the weekend, it is not easy to evade. Anxiety is understood to be connected with a lowered total antioxidant state or oxidative stress – an imbalance in the production of free radicals and antioxidants.

To link this back to nutrition, we investigated foods that are high in antioxidants to create an anti-anxiety diet: 

Anti-anxiety Diet

Vegetables: Spinach, kale, artichokes, beetroot and broccoli.

Fruits: Plums, cherries, certain apples, prunes, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cranberries.

Spices: Turmeric, with the active ingredient curcumin and ginger.

Beans: Black and red kidney beans.

Nuts: Pecans and walnuts.

Other highly recommended strategies to reduce anxiety and bring calm are meditation (click here for our mindfulness articles), deep breathing (breathing from the stomach instead of the chest), yoga, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and getting 8 hours of quality sleep.


While research carries on around the topic of food and our mental state, there has been dependable evidence that following a Mediterranean style diet has a lower risk of depression. If not for mental health reasons, this diet has been linked to fighting lifestyle diseases that are sometimes chronic, which in itself may lead to mental health issues.

It is important to note that the above-recommended foods do not replace your doctor’s prescriptions. That said, you can always ask your doctor about integrating nutrition into your diet.

Further reading

Disclaimer: External information referenced is for purposes of this article only and does not imply partnership or association with the organisation or its specific viewpoint.

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