Skip to main content
ask a health expert

George Doyle/Getty Images

The question

What foods help prevent mood swings?

The answer

The research on food and mood has largely looked at the link between diet and mood swings in premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS symptoms related to mood include irritability, depression, anxiety and crying spells.

Other PMS symptoms that can indirectly affect mood include increased hunger, food cravings, headache, fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating. Most women with PMS will experience only a few of these symptoms.

A 2010 study found that women who consumed the most thiamin and riboflavin in their diets – two B vitamins – were significantly less likely to experience PMS symptoms. These B vitamins are used to help synthesize brain neurotransmitters. Riboflavin is needed to activate vitamin B6 which, in turn, is used to generate serotonin, a chemical involved in depression, mood, appetite, sleep and migraine.

Thiamin is required to synthesize a neurotransmitter called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA); low levels of GABA are linked with anxiety.

Thiamin rich foods include fortified breakfast cereals, legumes, peas, nuts and lean pork. Good sources of riboflavin include milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy beverages, eggs, almonds and spinach.

Carbohydrate rich foods may also help improve mood. It's thought these foods help increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Include healthy carbohydrates at every meal such as whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, brown rice, sweet potato, legumes, fruit, and starchy vegetables.

Make sure you are also meeting your daily calcium requirements. Clinical trials have shown that women who consume 1000 to 1200 milligrams of calcium per day for three months noticed a significant improvement PMS related mood swings.

Women, aged 19 to 50, need 1000 milligrams of calcium per day. One cup of milk, ¾ cup plain yogurt and 1.5 ounces of cheese all contain roughly 300 milligrams of calcium.

Other sources include fortified soy beverages (300 mg per 1 cup), sardines with bones (3 ounces = 325 mg), canned salmon with bones (3 ounces = 188 mg), cooked Swiss chard (1 cup = 102 mg), cooked broccoli (1 cup = 62 mg) and almonds (1/4 cup = 92 mg).

In terms of supplements, taking 100 milligrams of B6 per day has been shown to decrease overall PMS symptoms, especially depression. B6 is needed for the production of neurotransmitters that effect mood. But daily doses over 100 milligrams don't have additional benefit and may have toxic effects if taken for an extended period of time. (The safe upper daily limit is 100 milligrams of supplemental B6.)

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.