Food and Mood

by Emily Dickerson, ND

What we eat can have a profound effect on how we think and feel. Often, however, the dietary component of mental health is overlooked. Food choices can contribute to anxiety, depression, mood swings, poor concentration, brain fog, and fatigue. Our mood gives us vital information about our internal body state. The following are some dietary recommendations to help keep mood and energy levels stable.

Building Neurotransmitters from Our Diet:

Collectively, neurotransmitters are what comprise our brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are primarily found in the brain but act all over the body. They regulate our behavior and are closely linked to mood. They are made in the body from dietary protein. When we eat a food protein, we digest it into its amino acid components. The body then utilizes those amino acids to build essential proteins and neurotransmitters, both of which have essential roles in bodily processes.


  • Makes us feel safe, satisfied, satiated. “Aaahhh…”
  • Serotonin is the main neurotransmitter that is targeted by many of prescription medications for anxiety and depression. It is one of our “feel good” neurotransmitters. Maintaining a healthy serotonin level can be of great benefit for your mental health.
  • The amino acid Tryptophan is a direct precursor to serotonin. It is best absorbed when eaten with a complex carbohydrate source, such as vegetables. The best food sources of tryptophan are turkey, milk, eggs, chicken, fish, soybeans, cottage cheese, bananas, nuts, oatmeal, wheat germ, avocados, and legumes.


  • Drives our reward-seeking behavior in the brain and strengthens the power of the habit.
  • Dopamine is derived from the amino acid, Phenylalanine.
  • Phenylalanine is found in most foods that contain protein such as beef, poultry, pork, fish, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, soy products (including soy protein isolate, soybean flour, and tofu), and certain nuts and seeds.
  • Low level of serotonin plus high level of dopamine could mean unstoppable sugar craving, anger, aggressiveness, and impulsivity.

Endorphins and Enkephalins aka “Opiods:

  • Reduce pain to give a feeling of pleasure.
  • Beta-endorphins are known for stimulating food cravings.
  • Too much sugar & starch can lead to beta-endorphin release and eating beyond satiety.


  • Cause us to feel stressed.
  • Stress hormones (primarily cortisol) that promote the release of dopamine.
  • Cortisol increases blood sugar and lowers immune system function.
  • Chronic high cortisol levels may increase abdominal fat
  • During acute stress, there is initially a decrease in appetite followed by rebound appetite to replenish nutrient stores.
  • Stress and its associated release of stress hormones often leads to poor food choices.
  • Negative thoughts, emotions, and high stress levels are related to poor nutrient absorption.

Dr. Dickerson works with patients to establish optimal mental health via neurotransmitter testing, Targeted Amino Acid Therapy, and diet and lifestyle modifications that promote excellent mental health. She has had great success with this approach and would love to help you achieve improved mental health, naturally!

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Dickerson, please call Boise Natural Health at (208)338-0405.