Anger Management: How Food Affects Your Mood

Anger is Connected to Nutrition

If you live in a big city - especially a city like Brooklyn, New York - the inevitable bout of irritability is not only allowed - it's almost expected. In fact, the burning need of New Yorkers to release pent up aggression has led to the development of anger rooms where you can take a sledgehammer to your troubles. However, if you're really trying to get a handle on your anger (and you can't lift a sledgehammer), you may want to take a closer look at your diet.

Growing research is revealing that what we eat may be a significant factor in how angry we feel. In fact, a University of California study showed that a diet high in trans fatty acids was directly linked to increased aggression. It appears that trans fats interfere with the brain's ability to produce and use Omega 3 fatty acids - a nutrient shown by research to lower aggression. Along the same lines, Omega 3 deficiency has been linked to risk for depression, which may contribute to irritability.  


In addition “hangry" - an adjective describing a mix of hunger and anger - is fitting description for many people rushing around in New York City.  A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences points out that low glucose levels resulting from hunger can lead to aggressive impulses.

As it turns out, science gives credence to the old saying that “you are what you eat”. Numerous studies back up the validity of the mood-food link. A three-month trial conducted by researchers at Deakin University in Australia followed 67 participants who had poor-quality diets and also battled moderate to severe depression. Poor diet in this instance was reflected by a low intake of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins but included a significant intake of processed meats, sugar and salty snacks.

About half of the individuals were place on a modified Mediterranean diet with comprehensive nutritional counseling while the others received general group therapy but no dietary support. Those on the diet showed significant improvements: 32% of people in the modified diet group experienced a complete remission of depressive symptoms versus only 8% of the control group.



The lingering question becomes: can the foods you eat actually make you angry? Looking at the big picture, the connection between food and mood involves complex variables like the time of day, nutrient composition of the food, and your dietary history. Still, research suggests that what you eat can have a direct effect on your mental state and your behavior. Dr. Drew Ramsey led an Oxford University study that focused on the how diet would affect mood and behavior among a group of prison inmates. The results showed that excessive consumption of processed junk food could lead to "aggression, irritability, and even violent tendencies."

Dr. Ramsey notes that, "nutrient deficiency is a major cause of behavioral abnormalities. Without the proper nutrients, the body cannot produce the appropriate chemicals and hormones required for clear thinking and healthy mood, which in turn can lead to irrational and even dangerous behaviors."

During the research study, a group of inmates received vitamin supplements while others ate typical junk food. Results showed that the inmates who took the vitamins were far less aggressive and angry than those who primarily consumed typical junk foods.



If you're thinking that drastic diet changes are on the menu, not to worry. Some minor modifications to your diet could make a big difference. Here are a few tips from Food and Nutrition:

  • Load your plate with mood-supporting foods by eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables.

  • Consume foods as close as possible to how they look in nature. For example, an orange is less processed and closer to nature than orange juice.

  • Eat plenty of dopamine-building foods, such as fish, poultry, eggs, and leafy greens.

  • Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, to help fight off feelings of depression.

  • Sprinkle in magnesium-rich foods, which support sleep. Foods high in magnesium include almonds, spinach, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

  • Limit added sugars. Choose no-sugar-added varieties of foods when possible. Have fruit for dessert more often than sugar-sweetened treats.

  • Get your vitamin D level checked. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression and mood disorders. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, egg yolks, liver and sunshine, but often supplements are needed to keep a healthy vitamin D level for individuals living far from the Equator.

Overall, remember that the key is balance. A diet that contains a healthy amount of whole foods with a variety of nutrients can help you to feel more calm and more content.