mood food – diet do’s and don’ts


This is a book excerpt from The Upside of Down. To read more about how Tamra Mercieca overcame depression the natural way, visit:




To put it simply: food is medicine. All of us know this intuitively. If you eat the right things in the morning, at lunch, or for dinner, you feel good. If you make the wrong choices you feel bloated, unfocused and tired. What if you have three doughnuts for breakfast? How do you feel thirty minutes later? I know I feel tired and lethargic. But what if you ate a healthy breakfast of oats and fruit? Your energy is likely to be much higher, and your mind much clearer.

Eating certain foods really can help keep bad moods at bay. Basically, the science of how food affects our moods is based on this equation: Dietary changes bring about changes in our brain structure, chemistry, and physiology, which lead to changes in behaviour!

Using food to regulate mood is becoming more common among people who suffer from depression. When feeling down, food activates the pleasure centres in the brain and gives some short-term relief. Unfortunately, eating does not deal with the underlying life issues or our thought patterns, which is why a holistic approach is required to treat mental illnesses.

There are a couple of reasons certain foods affect our mood. The first is when people get wide fluctuations of sugar levels they can either feel really energised or really tired. The second is that carbohydrate foods help release serotonin into the brain. Whole grain breads and pastas are known to exhibit that reaction, which is why people often relate them to being good mood food.

Focus on feeding you body and brain the raw materials needed to create the right hormones and neural transmitters. Many sin foods are in fact good for you. Studies show dark chocolate promotes the release of endorphins and stimulant phenylethylamine which mimics feelings of being in love.

Now when I say you need to focus on your diet, I mean loosely. If you cut out all so-called bad foods it will put a halt on your social life, and that is not going to make you feel better. Have a good dose of chocolate or ice cream once in a while, but make sure that 80 percent of the food that goes into your body is right for you.

Indulge occasionally. It is fun. And ultimately, you want to keep the fun side of food and cooking in your life. You don’t want to feel deprived from the things you love. Just remember anything in moderation is OK. Putting a dash of indulgence into the stew is the secret to success.

There are people who eat all the right food but feel utterly joyless from the gravity of their food-focused outlook. Make your changes gradual and listen to your body. When you eat a capsicum eat lots of it; when you want chocolate eat a small amount guiltlessly or replace the urge every second time with a piece of fruit.

We have heard the expression ‘you are what you eat’. So if you find yourself cranky, tired and even clinically depressed, you may be able to boost your mood by changing what you eat and when you eat. Our mental wellbeing all comes back to our diet. The severity of symptoms of depression often depends on the degree of nutritional deficiency. When the starving brain is fed what it needs, it can begin to function normally.

Studies show there are several things we can do, food-wise, to help stabilise our moods. I have listed some below. Try working them into your diet, because they offer many other health benefits, so you have nothing to lose.




Eat your greens 

Leafy greens are nature’s antidepressants. They are an excellent source of folic acid, a lack of which has been linked to depressed mood. Depression caused by folate deficiency is rare, but studies show that upping your intake can help to alleviate unhappy feelings.

Amazing asparagus

The root of asparagus has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of depression. It is highly nutritious and is used as a herbal medicine for mental disorders. It is a good tonic for the brain and nerves.

Go bananas

Bananas contain tryptophan, which the body uses to make the happiness hormone serotonin. They are also packed with potassium, levels of which can be depleted by stress. The vitamin B6 they contain will help regulate blood sugar and thereby stabilise mood.

Walnuts work wonders


Walnuts are second only to flaxseed in terms of vegetarian sources of omega 3 fatty acids. An increased intake of omega 3 has been shown to be very helpful in fighting depression and bipolar disorder. Like many nuts and seeds, walnuts help balance your mood and get rid of brain fog.

Seeds of change

Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression and aid sleep. A seed contains all that is necessary to start growing a new plant, so it is little wonder they are tightly packed with essential nutrients.

Eat oily fish

Studies have found that societies that eat lots of fish have lower depression rates, possibly due to the way Omega-3 changes brain chemicals to boost mood. That is probably why the Japanese, who eat the most fish, are the least depressed. Oily fish, including mackerel and salmon, is one of the few foods that contains vitamin D, which we usually produce by being exposed to sunlight. It boosts serotonin levels, and is one reason most people feel happier on sunny days.

Doctor Pepper


Hot chilli pepper can give a person a thrill that is more than purely sensory. The capsaicin, the hot substance contained in hot peppers, can induce in the brain a rush of endorphins that can temporarily elevate mood. When a person eats hot chillies, the capsaicin burns the nerve endings of the tongue and mouth, causing them to send false pain signals to the brain. In response, the brain tries to protect the body from perceived injury by secreting natural painkillers or endorphins. This gives a lift in the mood and person experiences a sense of wellbeing.


Gulp down garlic


Researchers at the University of Alabama studying garlic for its effects on blood and cholesterol noticed that those who ate the pungent vegetable experienced a definite lift in mood and had a greater feeling of wellbeing. They experienced notably less fatigue, anxiety, sensitivity, agitation and irritability.




The three big no-nos for people suffering depression are sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Too much alcohol can cause deficiencies in the vitamins needed for good mental health, and while sugar and caffeine give you a quick lift they can leave you feeling down when their temporary effects wear off.

    Studies prove that eliminating the big three helps maintain a stable mood. People who had not responded to conventional therapies reported having more energy within weeks of eliminating sugar and caffeine from their diet. Eventually, almost 60 per cent also experienced improvements in mood.


Why eat brekky?


Breakfast means just that: break the overnight fast. Eating breakfast allows you to restock the energy stores that have run out overnight and begin the day with a tank full of the right fuel. So skipping this all-important meal is a big no-no.

Just as we put fuel in our car to get us to work, so we need to put food in our body or it will not function to its full potential. Missing breakfast forces the body to draw fuel from its own energy stores until lunchtime, which can leave you feeling irritable and low on energy, opening the door to negative thinking.
According to some researchers, regularly eating breakfast not only leads to improved mood, but better memory, more energy throughout the day, and feelings of calmness. Eating a healthy breakfast puts your brain in balance so that you hunger for the right amount of healthier foods.




When I think of grazing I think of cows, but if it is good for them, why not for us? If you are one of those people who has only three meals a day you may find yourself running out of fuel between meals. That is why I encourage grazing. Even if it is just an apple or banana or some yoghurt it will give you that little pick-me-up to see you through the afternoon.

Eating throughout the day stops dips in your blood sugar levels, which can make you cranky, irritable and quick to snap at friends and work colleagues. Try to limit refined carbohydrates such as sugary snacks or fruit juice, as they are more likely to leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Go for high-quality carbs such as vegetables.


keeping hydrated – treading water

This is a book excerpt from The Upside of Down. To read more about how Tamra Mercieca overcame depression the natural way, visit:



Unless you are from Mars, you have heard about the ‘eight glasses of water a day’ thing. Yet it is amazing how many people do not drink enough. Dehydration is just one of those things that can trigger a bout of depression. Everything could be going fine, then you are presented with a difficult situation and because you have not kept up your water intake, you break down in tears.

Most people these days are running around every day dehydrated to some extent. Unless you are drinking two to three litres of water a day you will be dehydrated, which leads to sluggishness. And ultimately, feeling tired can affect your mood, possibly tipping you over the edge.

There is no other way to say it, but you simply must start drinking the right amount of water. We hear it all the time, ‘drink more water’ – but how many of us actually do it? Your body needs the lubrication to keep you regular, not to mention how important it is to keep your skin hydrated.

You might find it hard to down a large amount of water to begin with, but once it becomes the norm, you will never look back. Start the day with a big glass of water with a squeeze of lemon in it to flush out your system and kick-start your metabolism. The lemon works by stimulating the pancreas to release bicarbonates into the blood.


Why water?


Regular water consumption is essential for good health and wellbeing. The reason studies link depression to dehydration is because 85 per cent of brain tissue is made up of water. Dehydration causes the generation of energy in the brain to drop. So, a lack of water can be the culprit in any change in our mood.

You may feel low because you do not poop enough. Drinking lots of water can help with the elimination process. Here’s how:

Your blood circulates around your body each day dropping water off at the sweat glands, in the kidney and in the lungs. It releases at least 1.5 litres in the average person who does not exercise. It collects new water supplies from the bowel. Few people realise that the body stores its water in the bowel.

If there is no water in the bowel the water volume in the blood drops, reducing the effectiveness of circulation. The brain does not get all the nutrients or oxygen it requires as quickly as it needs them, so you might yawn, become sleepy, or crave sweet foods, as the body tries to get more oxygen and increase blood sugars.

If you are filing up on liquid Satan (you probably call it soft-drink), chances are you are not getting the amount of water your body needs to function properly. Water is vital for keeping the body clean and detoxified. It literally flushes out all the toxins your body stores from any bad foods you eat.

    I cannot stress enough, drink WATER, WATER , WATER. And then more WATER.


How much?


To stave off depression, and many other diseases and illnesses, drink a litre of water per twenty-five kilograms of bodyweight every day. This figure is based on a range of  ongoing research and is now considered a generalised recommendation by the naturopathic community.

    If you are exercising, you need to drink more. Just be warned that if you are not drinking this amount of water already, it will take some time for your body to adjust. You may find yourself running to the toilet constantly for the first couple of weeks while your body dumps all the stored fluid and normalises its water balance. Drinking a lot of water when your body is used to being partially dehydrated is like pouring water into a dry pot plant.

The best advice is to increase your water intake gradually, or try mixing one quarter of your glass with organic apple juice. This will slow it down as it goes through your system. It will take up to six weeks for a chronically dehydrated body to rehydrate itself. So be patient.

The biggest mistake many of us make is that we do not drink water until we feel thirsty. The problem is that by the time those alarm bells start ringing our bodies are already dehydrated. Thirst is our body crying out for water. The reason we don’t feel thirsty early enough to keep our bodies hydrated is usually that we are constantly wetting our mouths with liquids that dehydrate us – like soft drinks, tea and coffee. These sugary drinks serve only to dehydrate the body, and increase the need for extra water.

To help increase your daily intake fill a two-litre bottle with water in the morning and aim to drink it all through the day. If the taste of water bores you, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice for an extra refreshing boost. Or jazz it up with some berries.

    The human body is 70 per cent water so it only makes sense that the primary resource we should be feeding our bodies is water. The remedy for your depression, and other medical problems, could be as close as your tap!

One thought on “Mood Food

  1. Alina says:

    Your article left me with a desire to learn more. If you’re hungry for additional resources, click here for a curated list of books, podcasts, and videos on the subject.

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