If you happen to be hanging out with nine of your closest friends one evening, there’s a strong chance one of you is relying on an antidepressant to be there. A recent federal study found that one in ten Americans over the age of 12 are on antidepressants. This doesn’t even take into account the many people who suffer from depression or depressive symptoms without treatment.
There are so many uncontrollable factors involved in depression, negative feelings, anxiety, or just a grouchy mood. The question, however, is can diet help?
A growing body of evidence says yes. Changes in diet bring about changes in our brain structure and chemistry. We wouldn’t want to underestimate the power of food. It can bring about relaxing, calming, positive changes in our mood. The problem, however, is that most people turn to the wrong “comfort” food when feeling stress, unrest, or depressed.
The essential nutrients found in your basic healthy foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, etc) are used by the brain, too.
Protein is a source of tryptophan, an amino acid that affects levels of the “happy hormone”, serotonin. What do you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein for your body and brain? That’s a no-brainer! Make sure you inlude a source of protein with all your meals and workouts (from lean meats, nuts, legumes, or a high quality protein powder such as EnergyFirst ProEnergy Whey Protein). In fact, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found alpha-lactalbumin, a component of whey protein, to increase tryptophan and serotonin levels in the brain.
Building meals around your basic healthy foods also ensures an adequate supply of other nutrients that have been shown to improve mild to moderate forms of depression, such as selenium, magnesium, B-complex vitamins, and iron. Deficiencies in these nutrients can cause anxiety, irritability, and fatigue, the perfect conditions for a bad mood. Snack on selenium-rich brazil nuts, throw folate-rich spinach into your salads, or add the earthy flavor of pureed black beans into your classic winter soup for an excellent source of iron and magnesium.
Is your Brain on Fire?
Have you ever been in a fussy mood and had no explanation for it? While the source of your irritability could be the bill you just spotted in the mail, the argument you had with a coworker, or the traffic you dealt with on your morning commute, it also may be due to something else. It may be your brain responding to inflammation. Two breakthrough studies, published in JAMA Psychiatry and the Journal of Neuroinflammation, demonstrate a surprisingly strong link between inflammation (or its byproducts) and mood disorders or depression.
Food intolerances, gluten sensitivities, unstable blood sugar levels, lack of sleep, and untreated stress can all lead to brain inflammation.
How can you treat inflammation naturally? Reduce it with regular, effective, properly-fueled exercise. This isn’t enough, though. A nutritionally unbalanced diet can also increase brain-aggravating inflammation. Therefore, your diet is crucial.
Processed foods, high amounts of saturated fats, refined carbs, caffeine, alcohol, artificial colors, preservatives, and additives fuel inflammation. These are moody foods! They disrupt the production of your “happy hormone” serotonin. The stage is set for emotional instability.
Go fishing! Fight inflammation with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are foods you won’t find in a vending machine. Try to eat at least two or three oily seafood meals each week (such as salmon) and leave those angry or cranky days behind. Also, choose grass-fed meat instead of corn-fed for an extra boost of omega-3 in your diet. Unfortunately, most people do not get the required amount of omega-3 from their diet. A rich supplement, for instance OmegaEnergy Fish Oil, can cover your bases and prevent a deficiency.
It’s time to fill your plates with good mood food!
Journal of Neuroinflammation 2011, 8:94
Psychother Psychosom. 2013;82(3):161-9
Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2014 Aug 4;53:23-34.