Food and Mood: What’s the connection?

Written by CGSUPRT and Coast Guard Food Service.

Go for Green

If you eat too much or too little of certain foods, you may see an impact on your mood and your operational readiness.

Can a lousy lunch affect your afternoon performance on the job? Could that great steak dinner make or break your sleep patterns? Could that lack of sleep and heavy dinner from the night before affect your mission readiness? The answer is, yes.

Most scientists agree that what you eat can influence your mood. The effects may be subtle or dramatic, but your last meal or snack contributes to how you’re feeling right now (Mitchell and Christie, 1998). In order to produce an efficient and effective workplace within the Coast Guard, it’s important that Coast Guard men and women focus on eating a healthy, well balanced diet.

Today, researchers believe our moods are influenced by certain neurotransmitters—chemicals that relay messages along the nervous system to and from the brain. Your body’s neurotransmitters are made up of substances obtained from the food that you eat. Neurotransmitters regulate your mood, appetite, behavior and other functions of the brain. So, if you eat too much or too little of certain foods, you may see an impact on your mood, which has a direct impact on performance.

What foods will change your mood?

Studies show that a meal or snack high in carbohydrates (starchy or sweet foods) can make you feel drowsy, relaxed or calm. These moods are related to increased levels of the serotonin neurotransmitter in your bloodstream.

On the other hand, a high-protein meal (meat, dairy products, beans, nuts) can raise blood concentrations of the dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters, which make you feel energetic and alert (Mitchell and Christie, 1998).

Of course, everyone’s brain chemistry is unique to a certain degree. So, some people may react differently than others to specific foods.

Always consider the food-mood connection if you’re not sure why you are feeling a certain way. But keep in mind that not all food influences mood. And, not all moods are linked to food. You can feel happy or depressed for other reasons not related to food consumption.

Mood managers
• The food-mood reaction takes place within 2 to 3 hours after you eat. If you don’t want to be sleepy for your afternoon presentation, don’t eat pasta or pizza. Choose grilled chicken or fish with veggies.
• Even small portions can help manage moods. Try 1 to 2 ounces of cheese or some yogurt to boost your energy. Nibble graham crackers to help you unwind.
• “Grazing” or eating “mini-meals” are ways to manage your mood throughout the day.
• Keep a log of your meals/snacks and related moods. Look for trends, and adjust your moods by changing your eating patterns.
• Eat fresh, whole, unprocessed foods for good health as well as a clear head and stable mood (Somer, 1995).

In an effort to increase healthy eating habits across the service, Air Station Cape Cod is beta testing a Go for Green® health-based initiative program for one year and supplying their statistics of acceptance to a consultant.

Go for Green® is a food identification system designed to help you find foods to improve your performance. Coast Guard women and men must perform and excel at a professional level, just like any world-class athlete. Good nutrition helps the mission-readiness of our military.

Department of Defense and Coast Guard dining facilities that implement Go for Green® categorize the foods on their menus as green, yellow, or red.

“Green” for Go: eat often (high‐performance foods)
“Yellow” for Caution : eat occasionally (moderate‐performance foods)
“Red” for Stop or Limit : eat rarely (low‐performance foods)

With Go for Green®, we can more easily identify nutritious foods that fuel the body and brain best. The program encourages everyone to take an active role and select foods that can optimize performance.

For more information check the Go for Green® website.

Consider partnering with a CG SUPRT Health and Wellness Coach to work on a healthy eating and weight management plan. Services are free and confidential. Call today to enroll in coaching 855- CG SUPRT (247-8778).


Food and Mood by Elizebeth Somer, MA, RD, Henry Holt and Co., 1995.

International Food Information Council; Mayo Clinic; I’d Kill for a Cookie by Susan Mitchell, PhD, RD, LD, and Catherine Christie, PhD, RD, LD,1998.

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