What we eat plays a crucial role in our moods, emotions and mental state. From 'feelgood' nutrients that increase the body's natural production of serotonin to chemicals that trigger depression and mood swings, here's how to ensure you get the right balanced diet to keep your moods on an even keel.
Research shows that certain foods we eat everyday could be triggering a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can contribute towards depression and mood swings.
Scientists have found that inflammation in the brain plays a significant role in causing depression. Cytokines, a natural chemical which causes inflammation, is provoked by certain foods and can cause symptoms such as loss of appetite, insomnia and fatigue - all factors that could lead to depression.
"When researchers came up with the term, 'brain chemical imbalance' to explain depression, the next step should have been to supply the brain with nutrients," explains Carolyn Dean, from the Nutritional Magnesium Association. "However, chemicals are prescribed instead."
The following nutrients are known for their mood-boosting properties.
- Magnesium - Serotonin, the feel good hormone, relies on this for its production. Foods that boost magnesium intake include halibut, tuna but if you're not keen on fish, you can get the essential depression-beating vitamin in artichokes, bananna's and dried figs. Adding almonds, brown rice and pine nuts to your diet also helps increase your levels of magnesium
- Low-fat proteins - Lower in fat and help build up essential amino acids. You don't have to eat red meat to get your adequate low-fat protein intake. Soy foods like soy nuts and tofu are a great source of low-fat protein. Also try low-fat dairy drinks and foods like probiotic yoghurts and cottage cheese
- Omega-3 - These healthy fatty acids contribute towards healthy, balanced levels of serotonin. Fish lovers will find it easy to boost omega-3 levels in their diet, with cold water fishes like tuna, sardines, trout, herring and swordship being the best sources of omega-3.
- Vitamin B - Vitamin B is essential for healthy brains. Stock up on folate, B12 and B6. Fish and meat eaters will find it easiest to eat B vitamin-rich foods with shellfish, liver, mackerel, salmon and lean fat-trimmed beef being the richest sources. However, cheese and eggs also have high levels of B vitamins in them, including Riboflavin vitamin.
Although coffee is a stimulate that perks you up when you slump, the buzz from the caffeine doesn't last long and as they say, 'what goes up must come down'. "Coffee contains caffeine and other stimulants which interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals (especially zinc and magnesium.) Caffeine stimulates the adrenal gland to release the stress hormone adrenaline, upsetting blood sugar control and causing irritability and anxiety in some individually."
"An excess of meat can contribute to mood disorders as meat is a source of saturated fats and omega 6 fats, which in moderation are not problematic. "However too much affects the uptake of Omega 3 fats which have been shown in studies to improve depression, and may also help post-natal depression by creating healthy nerve cell membranes. Oily fish is a good source and also contains vitamin D which may also influence mood."
"Alcohol is a known depressant. As a sugar derivative it affects blood sugar and also depletes the amino acid- tryptophan needed for healthy serotonin levels (the happy neurotransmitter) affecting mood and sleep. It also depletes magnesium and B vitamins important to maintain a calm mood."
"Junk food also causes peaks and troughs in your blood sugar as it's high GI (has a high glycaemic index therefore does not provide sustained energy and can cause low mood). "It is also contains trans fatty acids (processed vegetable fats) which block the use of essential fats needed for healthy nerve cells. Junk food also is just empty calories because it stripped of nutrients especially the B vitamins needed for a healthy nervous system."
"Chocolate actually boosts mood if it's in the form of (moderate!) amounts of dark chocolate, because it's a good source of PEA (phenylethylamine). PEA helps raise endorphins normally associated with exercise or being in love! "However milk chocolate typically contains high levels of sugar. Sugar can have a detrimental effect on mood, and promote mood swings particulary. Although sugar is known to temporarily lift your mood by raising blood sugar quickly, the pancreas responds with a surge of insulin and you can a subsequent crash not long after and therefore feel low, irritable and tired (leading to cravings for another fix). The nervous system uses up considerable glucose, so quickly reacts to any sudden drops."
To avoid undoing all the good work and counteracting your mood-enhancing diet, nutritionist Kirsten Brooks BSc Hons, DN Med, from Eat Yourself To Health, suggests the mood-lowering foods you should avoid.