Whether it’s down to work, relationships or financial issue, life can be challenging and stressful at times. Scientists say that while an unhealthy diet can make you feel low, eating the right food can dramatically boost your mood and help you feel more positive. So, you can minimise negative feelings like depression, anxiety or stress by adding key foods to your daily diet. One recent report by two charities, the Mental Health foundation and Sustain, found a direct link between an unhealthy diet and depression. According to the report, high fat and high sugar diets could even be influencing the rate of mental illness in the UK. It is important to seek medical help if you suffer from depression or anxiety but at the same time your low mood will benefit from the right nutrition.
The link between food and mood
Certain foods trigger chemical changes in the brain and affect blood sugar balance and therefore affect your mood. The brain is an incredibly complicated organ, which explains why what we eat affects its performance. Believe it or not, the brain is mostly a great big lump of fat. In fact, it is 60 per cent fatty acids including DHA and AA. These fatty acids are important in influencing how your brain functions. Foods high in DHH and AA are fish, meat, milk and eggs, especially free range. The brain tissue is rich in minerals so it is important to include plenty of minerals in your diet especially zinc and iron which are important for normal brain function. The question is: how can you regulate mood swings and increase positive feelings through your diet?
Research shows that people who eat a high fish diet are less likely to suffer from the blues. In fact one study in the Lancet found wide differences in the rates of depression between countries that ate a high-fish diet, like Japan, and those that did not, like New Zealand.
It’s no wonder that low fish intake has been linked to an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), pre-menstrual depression, post-natal depression and even suicide. Make sure you stay positive by eating at least two portions of oily fish a week. This can include sardines, mackerel, salmon and fresh (not tinned) tuna.
Vitamins and minerals
These are vital for stress hormone production and nerve health so be sure to include foods which are bursting with the B’s. Folic acid (part of the B-Vitamin family) has been proven to reduce depression in several trials. Foods rich in folic acid include green leafy vegetables and breakfast cereals. Vitamin B5 has anti-stress properties and should be included in our diet especially at times of intense stress, depression and anxiety. Foods rich in vitamin B5 include peanuts, mushrooms, pecans, soya beans, oats, sunflower seeds and lentils.
Include minerals like zinc and iron in your diet as these are essential for improving mood and are vital for brain chemistry by eating protein rich food such as lean meat, fish, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Protein and Carbohydrate
Eating foods with a high protein-to-carbohydrate ratio is important for upping your mood. For example a portion of chicken with a little rice instead of vice versa could help perk you up because it balances your blood sugar levels and as a result stabilises mood.
For an even more effective way of boosting your mood try eating a complex carbohydrate like wholemeal bread or brown rice with some protein foods with a low GI (glycaemic index) like fish, lean meat or tofu. Low GI Foods help release energy slowly and include porridge, beans, pulses, dried fruit and nuts.
Coffee, tea and cola drinks all contain caffeine which can disrupt sleep and worsen negative moods in some people because of the effect caffeine has on the nervous system. Try herbal teas instead, which contain no caffeine and can help to soothe and relax. There is a wide variety of non-caffeine teas to suit every taste so give them a go. Peppermint tea and camomile tea are especially relaxing.
Camomile tea works on the same part of the brain as anti-depressant tablets so it is a very effective way of balancing your mood. Add a teaspoon of honey if you like it sweet.
Good news! Research has shown chocolate can promote happy feelings, thanks to serotonin, a feel good brain chemical. But the buzz you get can be short-lived and followed by feelings of guilt especially if you have just blown your diet, so just allow yourself the occasional chocolate treat and limit yourself to a few pieces.
Cut it out
Cutting down on food which encourage negative feelings is half the battle when it comes to beating depression or anxiety. Avoid artificial sweeteners and artificial colourings as they can trigger negative reactions just like caffeine when consumed in high quantities.
Foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrate foods like white bread and cakes reduce blood sugar and brain glucose supply. Go for wholemeal or granary bread and cut down on sugar.
By improving your brain health you can maximise and improve your mood significantly. Make your diet more nutritional and you will soon feel the uplifting and healing power of food.
Azizan Rauf is a freelance writer with a degree in journalism, whose interests include Islamic issues, health and well being.