When it comes to your mood, you are what you eat – literally! The raw materials for the neurotransmitters (brain hormones) that control your mood comes from your food. If you don’t get enough of the right stuff, your brain won’t work properly and you will feel lousy.

What you eat matters to your mood in other ways too. Dumping a shed load of caffeine of sugar into your system can have a big effect on blood sugar. If it see-saws up and down, you can feel on edge, irRitable and tired. And talking of tired, eat foods low in key nutrients iron and B vitamins can lower energy levels. This can also make you feel pretty rubbish.

So what’s the answer? Eating a diet that will help you feel focused, energetic, balanced and like an all-round shiny, happy person. The questions is: HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

First, here comes the science bit…

The big four brain hormones and how to boost them

Most of us think of hormones as the things that turned us into moody nightmares as teenagers and still drive us crazy once a month. But, our bodies produce lots of different hormones all the time. They are the messengers that make all our body processes work.

When it comes to feeling good about yourself and life, increasing motivation, reducing mindless over-eating of junk and helping you deal with stress, there are four biggies that, if boosted, can make a massive difference. The really fantastic news is that you make hormones from the food you eat, so when you choose the right breakfast for you, you are literally feeding yourself the raw materials for feeling great.


This is the good mood hormone. It is a neurotransmitter, or brain hormone, that we all make and helps use feel happy, contented and calm. It also improves sleep and reduces appetite. Fantastic, huh? The trouble is, we don’t all make enough of it. Women, tend to make less of it than men (we were born to be grumpy!) and around PMS time and in the run up to menopause, it also dips, hence we can feel blue.

The Seretonin Super Bounce

To give yourself the serotonin super bounce, you need to eat foods rich in an amino acid called tryptophan. Good breakfast sources are bananas and eggs. However, while amino acids, such as tryptophan, come from protein foods, tryptophan is a small molecule and needs a hit of sugar to stimulate another hormone, insulin, to get into the brain.

Your body collects spare tryptophan in an ‘amino acid pool’, so as long as you eat plenty of protein during the day, you should be OK. The way to ‘activate’ it, though, and feel happy and calm for the day is to add some carbs to your breakfast such as wholegrains, or fruit.


This is the ‘I’m not hungry’ hormone. Good levels of leptin switch off appetite and compulsive snacking and bingeing, allowing you to feel balanced after your breakfast, so you’re able to concentrate on your day, not obsess about where the nearest doughnut might be. Leptin that isn’t working properly is called ‘leptin resistance’.

You may be able to work out you are leptin resistant if you are constantly hungry and crave big portions and still don’t feel satisfied. Leptin resistance is also associated with infertility, depression and skin breakouts, especially along the jaw line, which can massively effect confidence and all-round happiness.

3, 2, 1, We Have Leptin Lift Off

If you are leptin resistant, it’s not that you don’t have enough leptin (quite the opposite) it’s that your body isn’t able to use it properly. The key to giving yourself a leptin lift off first thing is to pull in support from other appetite hormones to do the job leptin should be doing but isn’t.

Chief among these is ghrelin, a hormone that makes us feel hungry. When the stomach is stretched by eating a meal, ghrelin falls, so helping us feel satisfied. So, eating a high volume, low calorie diet (lots of salad and veggies) is one way to help leptin. The other is to add fibre rich foods, including whole grains, especially those containing ‘resistant starch’, such as oats and green bananas.


This is the ‘high motivation’ hormone. It helps you feel focused, clear-headed and motivated to follow through on plans. If you find yourself lying in bed rather than going for that morning run, it may be you need to boost dopamine. If you reach for caffeine, nicotine or sugary/fatty foods you may also be lacking in dopamine as all these things, along with drugs and alcohol, all stimulate the dopamine pathway in the brain.

Be a Dopamine Dynamo

Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine so you need to eat tyrosine-containing foods such as almonds, bananas, fish, soy and watermelon (not necessarily all on one plate).


The adrenals are a pair of glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They pump out a range of hormones, including adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. A little stress, stimulating a little of these can make you feel excited and clear-headed. However, chronic stress (a job you hate, a relationship that’s going nowhere…) or if you are a chronic worrier can overwhelm the adrenals, leaving you feeling run down and lacking in energy.

You may also crave salty or highly-spiced foods (the adrenals also control salt balance so that’s a red flag you’re under too much stress too). Poor sleep, fast heart beat, panic attacks or just feeling short tempered and not enjoying life can all suggest your adrenals are out of whack.

Amazing Adrenals

No-one is suggesting you chuck in your job and your boyfriend/husband and search for inner calm by joining an Ashram in Goa tomorrow. Instead, avoid too much coffee and diet colas and eat adrenal-friendly foods such as dark berries which are high in antioxidants which protect the brain, and nuts and seeds, containing essential fats which help the brain use adrenal hormones better.


Balance your blood sugar. Balanced blood sugar helps all your good mood hormones. Unbalanced blood sugar, which comes from drinking caffeinated drinks or eating white flour/sugar , can mess with your head, upsetting these same hormones.

The way to balance your blood sugar is to swap processed carbs for complex ones (real porridge not instant, wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice and quinoa), and add some good fats from nuts and seeds and include protein in every meal (fish, meat, dairy, eggs, vegetable proteins).

And, if you must have that morning coffee or builder’s tea, have it after you’ve eaten, not before. It’s a tiny change, but just lining your stomach with a little food before your caffeine fix will keep your mood good and stable for longer..