Depression and anxiety have been on the rise for quite some time, but a new survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau, has further revealed that one in three adults now have symptoms of depression and/or anxiety post-quarantine. 1 It’s more important than ever to address the array of factors contributing to this issue, including genetics, nutritional status, physiological factors, health conditions, stress, sleep patterns, activity levels, medications, social factors and more. Diet can have a particularly profound impact on your mood, since your food choices can directly influence your body in a number of ways that maintain mental health. Check out these 5 strategies to help you eat your way to a better mood.
Maintaining a healthy, nutrient rich diet can have a big effect on your mood. Evidence now shows that consuming excess processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol all have detrimental effects on your mental health. 2 Poor diet can also lead to nutrient deficiencies, which have also been associated with many mental health complaints.3 This may be due to the fact that many neurotransmitters require specific vitamins and minerals to be efficiently produced. Eating a nutrient rich, plant based diet with lots of vegetables and fruits can help ensure that you are providing your body with the substances it needs to positively impact your mood and help you feel your best.
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- B1, B3, B6, B9, B12, Amino acids
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Research has demonstrated that incorporating sources of omega 3 fatty acids may help treat and prevent depression. One study even found that fish oil supplementation had comparable effects to taking an antidepressant. 9 This makes sense since omega 3’s are critical for brain development and function. 10 There is also evidence of omega 3 fatty acids being effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, likely due to the powerful anti-inflammatory properties of these beneficial fats. 11
Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
- Chia seeds
- Dark leafy greens
Lean protein is also key for mood regulation and is broken down into amino acids. One amino acid in particular is called tryptophan and is used to make two important neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine. 12 These neurotransmitters make you feel alert, energized and help you feel pleasure. 13 Research has shown that there is a deficit of dopamine and norepinephrine in those with depressive illness. 14, 15
Sources of protein:
Cultivating a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Your gut sends signals to your brain though what is referred to as the gut brain axis. 16 Studies indicate there is decreased diversity in the gut microbiomes of those with psychiatric disorders and altered behavior. 17 There is also evidence supporting probiotics as an effective intervention in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms. 18,19 Eating foods that promote a diverse gut microbiome, such as a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, along with eating sources of pre and probiotics, can help you accomplish this goal.
It’s also important to note that while many neurotransmitters are made in the brain, it is estimated that up to 95% of the happy hormone serotonin is produced in the gut. 20 Cultivating certain species of beneficial gut bacteria can actually aid in the production of serotonin, which is frequently deficient in those with depression and anxiety. It is also important to note that pesticides on conventional produce can negatively impact your gut microbiome, encourage nutrient depletions, leading to metabolic alterations that may also contribute to mood disorders. 21
Sources of Prebiotics
- Sweet potatoes
- Dandelion greens
Sources of Probiotics:
- Pickled vegetables
- Cheeses with active cultures
Why is mindful eating important?
Because even if you are eating the right foods, you still want to promote proper digestion, absorption and utilization of the food you are eating.
With mindful eating, it’s important to make an effort to be self aware and undistracted when you eat. This will ensure that your body is relaxed and able to perform at its best, when digesting your food. It also involves the practice of slow eating with thorough chewing and staying away from distractions such as TV. Aiming for 20-30 minutes per meal in a relaxing environment can promote a beneficial state of parasympathetic relaxation rather than a fight or flight stress response which could impair digestion. This will also give your body the opportunity to produce signals needed for you to feel full and to leave you satiated. Slower eaters are also less likely to experience heartburn and gas than those who eat more quickly, because they typically chew their food more thoroughly, making it easier for digestion and absorption of important nutrients. Mindful eating is a great technique to make sure that you utilize all of the nutrients you need for better mental health.