Have you ever noticed that you have a little more pep in your step after eating certain foods--and that other foods can leave you feeling mentally and physically awful? You're not imagining things; as it turns out, all food is not created equal when it comes to how it affects your mood. Just like certain foods make your body feel great, there are also foods that can help your mind feel happier, clear-headed, and level. Here's what to eat (and what to avoid) to keep your mood stable and your spirits high.|
When a person is stressed, biochemical changes occur in the body that may lead to depressed mood. Antioxidants like vitamins E, C, and Beta-carotene have been said to combat these changes. Some studies show that those with depression have significantly lower levels of vitamin C in comparison to healthy individuals, and that vitamin C supplementation may reduce depression symptoms over time. Try adding bell peppers to your salads and stir-fries for a colorful punch of mood-boosting vitamin C. Not a fan of peppers? Many fruits and veggies, like papaya, citrus fruits and broccoli, are also high in vitamin C. As a bonus, these types of foods also tend to be high in other vitamins and minerals that help your body and brain function at its best.
Salmon is naturally high in vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and omega-3s, all of which play a part in mood stabilization and cognitive function. Some studies have shown that low vitamin B-6 and low vitamin B-12 levels may be associated with depression symptoms, since these vitamins might help create many of the "feel-good" chemicals in the brain. Other studies have found that taking omega-3 fatty acids along with an antidepressant may improve depression symptoms more than antidepressants alone. However, more research is needed to determine whether omega-3s have a significant impact on depression symptoms when taken by themselves. Other omega-3 powerhouses include soybeans, walnuts, and ground flaxseed.
Like salmon, bran boasts a high amount of mood-boosting vitamin B-6 and is also a complex carbohydrate. Since it takes longer for the body to process complex carbs, bran will help stabilize the blood sugar and mood while keeping you full. Recent research also suggests that a large percentage of the body's serotonin (a chemical important for mood function) is actually produced in the colon. Being high in fiber, bran promotes good colon health, which translates to a happier mood.
Don't fear the yolk! Egg yolks are an excellent source of vitamin D, which plays a role in the brain's pleasure center. Additionally, vitamin D helps influence the functions of certain hormones that may affect depression symptoms. As a result, getting adequate vitamin D may boost your mood, although more research is needed to come to a definite conclusion about vitamin D's role in reducing depression symptoms. If you don't eat eggs, you can also get vitamin D from sunshine, or by eating vitamin D-rich fortified milk, tuna, sardines, and fish oil supplements.
Leafy Green Veggies
Some studies have shown a positive correlation between folate deficiency and low levels of serotonin. By eating folate-rich green, leafy vegetables, you may be able to raise your levels of mood-boosting serotonin. Additionally, leafy greens are high in magnesium, a nutrient that has also been associated with boosting serotonin levels. Apart from greens, you can get your folate fix from yeast extract spread (Marmite), liver, dried herbs, sunflower seeds and dry roasted soybeans.
Brazil nuts are high in selenium, a nutrient that is essential for proper brain function. Low selenium levels have been associated with poor mood, and some studies suggest that selenium may be helpful in relieving episodes of postpartum depression. Don't like brazil nuts? Sunflower seeds, tuna, shellfish, beef, poultry, eggs and mushrooms are also good sources of selenium.
Although there is no clear link between caffeine and depressed mood, people who are sensitive to caffeine may experience effects that could exacerbate current depression symptoms. For example, for those who are highly dependent on caffeine, stopping intake altogether may cause irritability and fatigue. Excessive caffeine consumption can also cause sleeping troubles, which could worsen depression symptoms. If caffeine causes you mood problems, switch to decaf coffee or tea, and stop consuming caffeine about four hours before bedtime.
Fried and Processed Foods
Studies show that eating foods high in trans-fats (including fried foods and processed foods), may increase the risk of depression. On the flip side, consumption of healthy fats (think olive oil, nuts, fatty fish and avocado) may lower the risk of depression. Step away from the chip bag and reach for a handful of almonds or walnuts for a mood-booster.
Eating sugary foods like candy and packaged snack foods might give you a temporary energy "high", but it won't last you very long before your blood sugar dips down, causing irritability and fatigue. If you have to have something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit, which will deliver the important vitamins, minerals and fiber that will boost you mood instead of bringing it down.
Having a drink every once in a while is a normal way to socialize and let loose. However, be sure to keep your usage in check, as alcohol abuse may trigger depression symptoms and/or exacerbate the symptoms of existing depression or anxiety disorders. If you struggle with depression or find yourself relying on alcohol too much to have a good time, try to surround yourself with others who don't partake.
Sodium isn't just bad for your blood pressure--it might also wreck your mood. Although it has not been proven that too much sodium causes depression symptoms, some evidence shows that depressed mood may be closely linked to high sodium levels. There is also some evidence that salt activates the same neural pathways in the brain as drugs and other addictive substances. Put down the shaker and flavor your food with fresh herbs and (salt-free) spices, instead.
Although food isn't a cure-all for a bad mood, eating a nutritious diet is one small step to feeling better overall, mentally and physically. Eat up to stop feeling down!
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, licensed and registered dietitian.
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