Eat for: Good Mood
Katie Noble, BNatMed, 2019 SPCNM Graduate Practitioner
Food has a powerful emotional pull and sometimes when we are feeling down in the dumps it’s easy to reach for comfort foods and foods that end up making us feel worse.
So what foods should you eat and which ones should you avoid?
Eat a wide variety of foods: by eating a rainbow plate you have a better chance of getting access to all the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) we need for good health. Focus on including salads and vegetables in every meal. When choosing fruit, whole fruits are best, the fibre in the fruit helps balance the sugar and feed the good bacteria in your gut. Eating lots of green vegetables provides folate and magnesium which is important as low levels have been linked to depression. Think broccoli, spinach, edamame, artichokes and avocado.
Drink water not coffee: make sure you stay well hydrated and avoid excessive use of stimulants such as coffee which are taxing on your adrenals. They may give you a boost, but you will pay for it later, especially if it disturbs your sleep or makes you jittery. Caffeine affects the transmission of dopamine and the use of caffeine in teenagers is linked to depression. It also depletes the B vitamins which are essential for mental wellbeing.
Choose complex carbohydrates: whole grains provide B vitamins which are essential for brain health, B1 (thiamine) helps turn glucose into energy, B5 is needed for acetylcholine production which is involved in memory and learning, B6 is needed for serotonin production and B12 is vital for neurotransmitter production. Look for quinoa, steel-cut oats, brown rice, millet, wild rice, bulgur, amaranth and legumes plus sweet potato, peas and pumpkin.
Avoid Refined carbohydrates like sugar, syrups, white bread, white flour, white rice and fruit juice.
Eat omega-3 fatty acid rich foods: Eat lots of the usual suspects: sardines, mackerel, chia, flaxseed & walnuts for their positive association with mental health. People who regularly eat fish have been shown to be less likely to experience feelings of depression.
Include protein at every meal: mix it up between animal and vegetarian sources of protein. Protein helps stabilise blood sugar. When blood sugar rises it causes inflammation, and when it plummets we can experience anxiety and fatigue. We need protein to make all the feel good neurotransmitters, hormones and chemical messengers. Good vegetarian sources of protein are beans, legumes and tofu.
Avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar: A South Australian study showed a link between soft drink consumption and mental health problems, whilst animal studies have shown that artificial sweeteners reduce serotonin levels in the brain. A human trial on the use of aspartame by people with unipolar depression was halted because of the severity of reactions experienced by the study participants.
Identify food intolerances: It might be worth talking to a natural health practitioner to find out if you have any food intolerances. There appears to be a link between food allergy / intolerance and depression. Food intolerances can be inflammatory to your digestive tract, which can hamper your ability to absorb nutrients. It can also compromise your gut lining and may have consequences for your immune system and mental health.
Keep the alcohol down: although alcohol can initially be uplifting and provide some temporary relief, alcohol is a depressant and it can interfere with sleep resulting in anxiety.
As well as the above tips, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to increase mood.
- Make sure you get out in the fresh air; having contact with nature increases mental health, reduction in stress, a sense of coherence and belonging, improved self-confidence and self-discipline.
- Try out a couple of hobbies to find something that makes you happy, it might be art, or exercise, pottery or dancing. Everyone is different and whatever makes you smile will be unique to you.
- Having support networks is very important to support mood.
- Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to increase mood.
- The lifestyle advice which has the strongest link to improved mood is exercise. Start small and increase you exercise slowly to reap the benefits without causing extra stress on your system.
While these suggestions are good for long term support for mood, when your situation is acute make sure that you reach out for help. Talking to a friend about your feelings can help put things into perspective, if you think you in any harm reach out to a medical professional. Emergency support info can be found at Mental Health Foundation.
Bioconcepts. (2019). Nutritional medicine guidelines for mood optimisation [Brochure]. Queensland, Australia: Bioconcepts.
Brewer, S. (2013). Eat well, stay well: What to eat to beat common ailments. London, England: Connections Book Publishing
Hechtman, L. (2012). Clinical naturopathic medicine. Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone: Elsevier
Sarris, J., O’Neil, A., Coulson, C. E., Schweitzer, I., & Berk, M. (2014). Lifestyle medicine for depression. BMC psychiatry, 14, 107. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-107