With the rising levels of anxiety and depression and ever-increasing stresses in our Kids, our Friends and in Ourselves, is it true we can help control our ‘happiness’ through what we eat? We have the ‘lowdown’ on what you foods will help to boost your mood and be happier.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
We’ve all heard it before.
THE FOODS WE EAT AFFECT OUR BRAIN AND BODY
It is a fact that the foods we consume have a massive effect on our brains and bodies and, in fact, on our moods and our mental and emotional wellbeing.
How? Well, for the Brain and body to communicate and perform optimally, they are required to produce the right hormone levels and neurotransmitters. (neurotransmitters, including dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin.) These neurotransmitters provide mood stability, control stress and prevent depression. The right hormone levels are essential for you to feel happy, calm and motivated.
But to produce these, both the body and brain need to be fuelled (just like a car) with high-quality nutrients.
While the food we consume affects our brain and body, so too the brain can affect the foods we consume.
OUR BRAIN CAN ALSO AFFECT THE FOODS WE CHOOSE TO EAT
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, like low mood, irritability, lack of motivation and low energy levels, it may be difficult to find the energy and motivation to make healthy food choices.
When you are feeling low, do you tend to reach for the convenience and comfort foods that are filled with poor quality nutrients?
This type of behaviour is motivated by the need to feel pleasure, enjoyment or fun. It gives us a euphoric feeling to consume something we like, yet it is short-lived enjoyment and we often feel guilty and worse for consuming it.
Research indicates that it is at these times, we really should be fuelling the body and brain with nutrient rich choices, in order to give them the right foundations to make happy and healthy hormones and neurotransmitters.
Thus, a poor diet can contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
NUTRIENTS FOR BODY AND BRAIN
Experts agree that the highest quality foods are the nutrient-dense foods, those foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins and antioxidants.
Makes perfect sense right? So, by eating foods that are the richest in all these nutrients, doesn’t it make sense that while we are fuelling our bodies and brains, we are producing optimum levels of hormones and neurotransmitters which will make us ‘perform’ better in every way?
In essence, if we are not consuming the best diet, the overall health of our brains and bodies will decline, as will our mood and emotional health.
You may have heard of these nutrient-rich foods. Many of them are ‘Superfoods’ as they are packed with nutrients that benefit our bodies in so many ways eg avocados are not only an excellent source of Vitamins, but also provide omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium…
Nutritionists like to refer to them as ‘Superfoods’, but for the purposes of this article, we will refer to them as ‘Mood-boosting or nutrient-rich foods.
The good news is, many of them are ‘every day,’ easily obtained foods.
MOOD-BOOSTING NUTRITION & MIDLIFE
As we enter into midlife, we are dealing with a variety of often complicated issues. Oh Yay! Perimenopause, Menopause and Post Menopause usually occurs around this time and because they directly result in a decrease in our hormones, they can be markedly affected by what we eat.
Good nutrition: eating these Mood-boosting foods, can help prevent or ease certain symptoms associated with midlife peri and menopausal years.
It is well documented that during the menopausal-midlife years, many women suffer from increased anxiety, mood swings, sometimes even depression. There is often a general decline in our emotional health and wellbeing. It, therefore, makes sense that at this time in our lives, we REALLY need to make what we consume count.
SO WHAT EXACTLY ARE THESE SUPER MOOD-BOOSTING NUTRIENTS I NEED
Research has found the following ‘super or mood-boosting nutrients’ can help the body produce the chemicals needed for healthy brain function and therefore contribute to fighting anxiety, depression and mood disorders:
- Vitamin C (oranges, lemons, strawberries, capsicums, tomatoes and broccoli)
- Vitamin B6 & B12 (carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, green peas, lentils and other legumes, and bananas, avocado)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp, walnuts, oily fish and algae-sourced EPA and DHA supplements)
- Zinc (legumes-especially when sprouted, seeds, nuts, and whole grains, oysters.)
- Magnesium (legumes, tofu, whole grains, and leafy greens, avocado)
- Folate (avocado, walnuts, oranges, spinach, and asparagus, peas, lentils, edamame, brussel sprouts)
- Selenium (brazil nuts, wild yellowfin tuna, mushrooms, and lentils, brown rice, mushrooms, spinach).
- Protein (specifically tryptophan)(organic grass-fed whey, eggs, chickpeas, lentils, beans, chicken, turkey, fish)
- Probiotics (yoghurt, tempeh, kombucha, kefir, miso)
- Antioxidants/Polyphenols (Best sources-oranges, berries, tomatoes, apples, spices, dried herbs, flaxseed, hazelnuts, almonds, cocoa powder)
- Vitamin D (See below)
A WORD ABOUT VITAMIN D
-Vitamin D increases the production of the neurotransmitters associated with mood, like serotonin.
A 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with high levels of vitamin D had a lower risk of depression.
Other studies have found that a relationship exists between low levels of vitamin D, depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. During cold months, most of us tend to stay indoors. And our skin is unable to produce as much natural vitamin D as it does in warmer seasons.
Vitamin D deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world today. In fact, an estimated 40% to 60% of the world’s adult population don’t get enough vitamin D.
Research has also shown that vitamin D supplementation helps maintain a positive mental state.
The best source of Vitamin D that you can get is from the sun. If this is not your preferred option (you may avoid the sun due to skin damage), then you may want to consider *supplementation.
While Vitamin D is naturally present in a few food sources, it is not in the best quantities. The best food sources include: fatty fish (EG: Alaskan pink salmon), egg yolks, non dairy yoghurt contain small amounts of it.
Probiotics aid bacteria in the gut and are best known for their role in digestive health. But emerging research suggests that bacteria in the gut send and receive signals to and from the brain (known as the “gut-brain axis), and thus, probiotics may have a direct affect on the brains function.
Knowing this, researchers are studying how the gut microbiome may play a role in combating depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, stress, and mood swings.
Although many factors, including antibiotic use, food additives, stress, and exercise, have an impact on gut health, optimizing your diet to include prebiotic & probiotic-rich foods, may help to boost your mood.’
For many of us, we instinctively turn to chocolate when we are in a bad mood. Is it the taste, or are we programmed to choose these foods because of their mood-boosting benefits? Chocolate, along with fruits, vegetables, spices, tea, coffee and red wine all contain nutritive compounds called polyphenols.
Put simply, polyphenols are a broad category of micronutrients that have antioxidant properties. Research is now emerging, that these polyphenols may have a role in influencing our mood.
Curcumin found in Tumeric, is one of the more widely studied polyphenols. A review on its effects found that it was shown to positively affect parts of the brain involved in mood regulation, known as the hippocampus. Curcumin was also shown to increase levels of serotonin, which is often termed as the “happy hormone”
Other polyphenols have been shown to exert anti-inflammatory benefits. The literature currently suggests that, that by targeting inflammation we may be able to negate the risk and progression of depression. So, in theory, polyphenols through their anti-inflammatory effects may help with mood conditions such as anxiety and depressive disorders.
Certain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, are the precursors to brain neurotransmitters that help balance and better our mood.
THE BEST MOOD BOOSTING FOODS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR MIDLIFE DIET
Free range eggs
Wild Caught Fish – (yellowfin tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines)
Chicken & Turkey
Grass-fed and/or Organic Beef and Lamb
Whole grains such as quinoa, bulgur, wild rice, oats, brown/red/black rice, whole wheat, barley, millet)
Fruits of all types eg blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, avocados, bananas, oranges…
Vegetables all types eg sweet potato, beetroot, carrots but especially leafy green eg spinach, kale, asparagus, parsley
Beans and legumes of all types eg black beans, lentils, chickpeas
Nuts & Seeds eg brazil, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin, chia, hemp, flax (avoid peanuts as are they are almost always contaminated with mould)
Dairy products in moderation (pastured eggs, cheese [avoid high-mould cheeses like brie, bleu, gorgonzola and aged varieties], milk, butter, ghee, yogurt, etc.)
Spices and organic condiments (eg tumeric, garlic, parsley, ginseng, cinnamon, cardamom)
Spirulina (this micronutrient is rich in B Vit, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, calcium)
NOTE: THE LISTS ABOVE ARE NOT THE ‘BE ALL AND END ALL- MUST ONLY HAVE THESE.’ THERE ARE OTHER ALTERNATIVES OF NUTRIENT DENSE FOODS TO BE HAD IN EACH CATEGORY. THESE ARE JUST SOME OF THE BEST EXAMPLES GLEANED FROM MY RESEARCH. THE BEST FOOD SOURCES SHOULD ALWAYS BE AS FREE OF PESTICIDES AS POSSIBLE THEREFORE CHOOSING ORGANIC IS THE BEST CHOICE IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT.
Evidence shows that our Western diet which is high in processed foods and is full of salt, sugar and added fats will more likely lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression and exacerbate mood disorders When motivation and energy are lacking, you may find foods such as takeaways, chips, soft drink and lollies appealing. Unfortunately, a diet focused on these types of foods is more likely to exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If the above guidelines weren’t clear enough, here is a specific list of foods to avoid if you are trying to overcome depression and anxiety:
- -Dried Fruits
- – Fizzy drinks/sodas
- – Sweets/lollies
- – Fast food of all kinds
- -Salted Meat Products
- -Canned Foods
- – Sugary foods like pastries, cookies, ice cream, etc.
- – White bread
- – White rice
- – Foods made from white flour-like most pasta (choose whole wheat, brown rice or quinoa pasta instead)
- – Products with soy in them (organic tofu, tempeh and edamame are ok in moderation)
- – Refined oils (hydrogenated oils, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, etc.)
- – Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). Also goes by the names: hydrolyzed vegetable protein and yeast extract and can be hidden in natural flavourings
When it comes to what you eat, the most critical adjustment you can make in order to boost your mood, reduce anxiety and emotional disorders and therefore lead to a happier, healthier life, is to switch over to a diet of real/natural food. By doing this, you remove processed ‘rubbish’ foods, artificial flavours, preservatives, colours and sweeteners from your diet.
I remember my Grandmother advocating “If you can’t pull it from the ground, pick it off a tree or kill it, then you shouldn’t eat it.” The experts all agree a diet as natural, unrefined and as organic as possible, is best for the ultimate health and wellbeing of our body and brain.
**Everything in moderation –
be aware of portion sizes, obviously this plays a major factor in weight control in Midlife. ‘You can have too much of a good thing!’
NOTE: We need to be very careful about using food as the only treatment for mood problems, particularly when we are looking at different forms of anxiety and more than mild depression. Moderating food only may not have the impact you desire, especially in cases of severe depression and thoughts of suicide. Please seek treatment for these more serious mental health conditions. We have listed some contacts on our Mental Health – Anxiety Blog here.
*You should always seek professional advice before taking any supplementation.
COMING SOON: SOME FABULOUS MOOD BOOSTING RECIPES