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Hangry vs. Happy Worker: How Food Influences Mood

The clock change is imminent, we can’t remember summer and the lure of the duvet feels stronger than ever, leaving us with no choice but to search ‘mood boosters’ on Google!

Mood is a tricky commodity. A low mood is influenced by so much; often fickle by nature it can come and go or creep up on us unexpectedly as we drag our heels and struggle to get through the day. Interestingly, all the EU nutrition and health claims submitted for approval around ‘mood boosting foods’ have not been authorised. Maybe this is because it is hard to quantify improved mood or single out a specific nutrient or compound capable of such a tall order.

While your diet can not alter that looming deadline or kick that annoying boss into touch, it can enable you to face your working day with more mental and physical resilience. Collectively paying attention to certain dietary components and eating behaviours really can have a positive influence.

To support positive mood, mindfulness experts would tell us to count our blessings and live in the moment. As a nutrition expert I urge you to take a bird’s eye view of your daily diet. Often our perception of our habitual intake is far from accurate. Reactive food choices, long working hours and a lack of time can all take their toll on your nutrition score. Today’s society is in danger of guiding us towards the quick fix rather than the longer term solution, and our default food choices when we’re under pressure are often unhealthy. 

While research doesn’t allow me to put forward the miracle mood booster, it can guide us towards the basics we simply must respect and get right (most of the time)!

Feed your brain

A lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain cell walls is associated with a more rapid mental decline, and declining brain functionality isn’t going to cheer anybody up! Many of us aren’t great at oily fish consumption and deficiency is common. Omega-3’s also protect heart health and counteract all the nasty inflammation a poor diet can create.

Bottle it – or rather don’t!

A whole host of chemical reactions occur behind the scenes in our bodies – too many to fit on a spreadsheet. B vitamins release energy from our food and make the powerful chemical dopamine, which is linked to happiness. Low levels of folate and B12 are associated with low mood and iron is needed for oxygen transport and to fight fatigue.

Vitamin D protects our immunity as do selenium and zinc. No one is in a good mood if they’re ill! And then there’s the phytochemicals – valuable compounds for both day to day and long term health and vitality.

Aside from Vitamin D supplements which are advisable in winter months, trying to patch over a poor diet with an array of supplements simply won’t work. Head past the health food shop to the supermarket where you will find an array of fresh produce – the more colour, the more phytochemicals (with the exception of a jammy dodger)! It is the interaction of a variety of healthy foods and the molecules within them that offers you the most advantage so try not to pick the same old thing every time you shop.

Balance it out

Combinations of wholegrain carbohydrate, healthy protein and plenty of veggie crunch regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels. Undulating hills keep us on an even keel with the avoidance of big peaks and troughs which can make us hangry (hungry → angry) and plunge us quickly towards the biscuit tin. Sweeter foods will always seem appealing – they do cause insulin release which in turn facilitates the amino acid tryptophan to pass into the brain where it is converted into the feel good hormone serotonin. But wholegrain carbs also do the same thing and carry with them many more performance enhancing nutrients!

Here’s your check list for a happy day:

  • Include dark green leafy veg with lunch – a limp iceberg leaf doesn’t count! Seek out broccoli, spinach, kale or watercress.
  • Add some zest with an orange as a snack – rich in vitamin C to boost iron absorption.
  • Go the whole hog – wholemeal pasta, wholemeal pitta, quinoa, brown rice or oatcakes – make it whole and not white.
  • Good things come in 3’s – boost your oily fish intake where possible. Embrace mackerel salad or salmon stir-fry leftovers. You have my permission to stink out the office!
  • Don’t skip – skipping never puts me in a good mood as I always trip over the rope! Don’t skip meals either – it’s important to consider your ‘hanger’ management!
  • Snack on small handfuls of brazil nuts, dried apricots or linseeds or use peanut butter to stick ground pieces all together in a ball – perfect mood boosters or good to lob at your colleagues if they’re ruining your good mood and best efforts!

About the author: Laura Clark is a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist based in London. She is the founder of LEC Nutrition and is dedicated to educating, motivating and inspiring people to lead healthy, balanced lives. For individual bespoke advice or workplace wellness seminars contact Laura at

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