Does Food Influence Mood in Adolescents?

Food can positively or negatively affect the mood of adolescents. Let's see what these foods are in the following article.
Does Food Influence Mood in Adolescents?

Last update: 12 September, 2023

The relationship between diet and the mood of adolescents is fundamental. Diet plays a crucial role in the physical and psychological development of young people at this stage of rapid change.

The nutrients that enter the body through the diet can have a positive or negative effect on mood. For that reason, it’s necessary to know how to choose them. A good choice in favor of a good balance in mood is the selection of foods that help mental health. At the same time, it’s best to avoid ultra-processed foods because they cause the opposite effect of what we want.

If you want to know more, keep reading this article to find out how and why food influences the mood of adolescents. Don’t miss it!

Why does food influence the mood of adolescents?

Adolescence is a period of rapid growth and significant body and emotional changes. At this stage, the brain is still developing and is very susceptible to nutritional stimuli.

Some nutrients can affect brain chemistry, either increasing or decreasing certain messengers that pass information from one neuron to another: Neurotransmitters. These are involved in well-being, pleasure, motivation, and energy.

In this context, a group of scholars recognized and published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry that diet and nutrition are central determinants of people’s mental and physical health.

At the adolescent stage, the journal American Public Health Association notes that a diet high in processed foods may be associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety. This begins to manifest itself between 6 and 13 years of age.

Depression can lead to a vicious cycle, as Lenka Shriver’s research team states in the journal Nutrients. They explain that as adolescents eat emotionally, there’s an increased risk of binge eating, eating without hunger, and developing obesity.

At the same time, just as food directly influences neurotransmitters in the brain, it also does so from the gut.

In the journal Trends in Neurosciences, Foster and Mcvey suggest that there’s a gut-brain axis where billions of gut bacteria can influence behavior, including people’s mood.

So, let’s see which foods and nutrients impact the mental health of adolescents.

Foods that influence mood in adolescents

The quality of the diet plays a crucial role in mood. Some foods can improve mood, while others have a negative impact.

An article published by Harvard Health Publishing discusses “nutritional psychiatry” and why it’s of utmost importance to make the right choice of foods based on the nutrients they contain.

For example, tryptophan is an amino acid that functions as a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin or “mood hormone”. Therefore, it’s necessary to select foods that contain it.

According to this prestigious university, young people who eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean or traditional Japanese diet, are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and stress. This is because these diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. At the same time, they’re low in sugars and processed and refined foods.

Now, let’s know which foods affect or benefit mental health.

Foods with a positive impact on emotional well-being

Vegetables and fruits

A study in the American Journal of Public Health reported that the consumption of fruits and vegetables may help increase happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being. Some fruits, such as kiwi, banana, almonds, and walnuts contain tryptophan, which, as mentioned, is the precursor of the good mood hormone.

Lean red and white meats, dairy, and eggs

Protein foods of animal origin are characterized by being sources of the essential amino acid tryptophan. As revealed by the journal Nutrients, these foods are related to good mood. However, there’s still a lot of research to be done on this subject.

Fish and seafood

These foods are sources of omega-3, a type of fatty acid found naturally in oily fish – such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout, among others – which provide DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). This type of fat benefits people with mood disorders, as suggested by an article published in Harvard Health Publishing.

Nuts and seeds

Seeds such as chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed, as well as nuts, provide alpha-linolenic acid, a precursor of DHA.

Dark chocolate

According to the journal Frontiers in Psychology magazine, dark chocolate has mood-enhancing and stress-reducing properties. But remember that it should be eaten in moderation.

Foods with probiotics

A paper in the journal published in the journal Nutrition suggests that the consumption of probiotic foods may have beneficial effects on depression. Also, a more recent review published in the same journal proposes Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium as ideal strains for adjunctive treatment of major depressive disorder.

Foods with a negative impact on mood

Just as there are natural foods that can improve the mood not only of adolescents but of people in general, there are also foods that can cause the opposite effect. Learn about them below.

Ultra-processed foods

Refined, sugary foods, carbonated beverages, and fast foods are associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression in adolescents. Jin Suk’s study in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition suggests that the consumption of sugary drinks and fast foods was associated with more stress, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation in Korean adolescents investigated.

Coffee, tea, and energy drinks

According to a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, caffeine consumption in adolescents has long-lasting effects on anxiety-related behaviors in adulthood.

It’s time to promote good mood and good nutrition in adolescents

There’s enough evidence to reveal the role of healthy eating in promoting good mood and mental health in adolescents. Of course, a varied and balanced diet is only one part of the puzzle and should never replace the treatment of a medical specialist. But it does help.

Fresh and natural foods, such as a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, nuts, oilseeds, and probiotics, are the main protagonists of a good mood.

In addition, young people should restrict the consumption of ultra-processed foods, sugars, fast foods, coffee, and energy drinks, to reduce irritability and anxiety.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Foster, J. A., & McVey Neufeld, K. A. (2013). Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in neurosciences36(5), 305–312.
  • Harvard Health Publishing. Nutritional psychiatric: Your brain on food. Actualizado en: 18 de septiembre de 2022. Disponible en:
  • Harvard Health Publishing. Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. Atualizado: 27 de octubre de 2020. Disponible en:
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  • Johnson, D., Letchumanan, V., Thum, C. C., Thurairajasingam, S., & Lee, L.-H. (2023). A Microbial-Based Approach to Mental Health: The Potential of Probiotics in the Treatment of Depression. Nutrients15(6), 1382. MDPI AG. Retrieved from
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.