Can Food Affect Your Mood? What Carbs and Coffee Do to You

You might want to rethink that morning coffee if you're older than 30. New research suggests it could impact the mood of older adults. Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

It's common knowledge that people need to switch up their diets with every passing year as slowing metabolisms make it harder to enjoy pizza and cookies without gaining weight. But new research indicates that your adult self might react very differently to certain foods compared with your teenage self in ways that have nothing to do with your waistline.

Researchers from Binghamton University, State University of New York, found that certain foods affect the mental health of older and younger people in different ways, according to a release.

For the study, published in Nutritional Neuroscience, researchers asked people in a questionnaire about specific foods and their mood, targeting items linked to neurochemistry and neurobiology. They found that young adults ages 18-29 fared better eating meat. After 30, however, antioxidants proved more powerful when it came to mental health. Abstaining from substances like coffee and high glycemic index foods (like breads and sugary foods), both of which seemed to have a more negative impact on mood, also was more important in your 30s and beyond. Foods with a higher glycemic index raise your blood sugar levels and tend to have lower nutritional value, according to an article by Harvard Medical School.

Researchers believe this study offers compelling evidence that diets may need to be customized based on age. They also note that young adults are sensitive to certain brain chemical buildups, like from serotonin and dopamine. Past research has shown that those who battle depression have lower serotonin levels, according to the National Institutes of Health. So, teens could be less moody on a diet that contains plenty of meat, which the study authors believe could help boost serotonin and dopamine. Regular exercise of at least three gym sessions a week could also help teens experience less mental distress, the researchers say.

Alternatively, older adults benefit from eating more antioxidants, which includes fruits like berries. "With aging, there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants), so our need for antioxidants increases," said study co-author Lina Begdache, molecular biologist and registered dietitian, in a statement.

She explained that these free radicals can impact our brains and cause some distress, and that certain foods can actually trigger stress.

"Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress," said Begdache. "Also, our ability to regulate stress decreases, so if we consume food that activates the stress response (such as coffee and too many carbohydrates), we are more likely to experience mental distress."

Next up, Begdache hopes to study how food could impact men and women differently.

Past research has shown that diets can affect your mood, with high sugar and fat levels linked to depression. While it's common to feel down this time of year, you might want to take a look at your diet when dealing with the holiday blues.