Good Mood Foods
It’s no secret that if you want to be in the best possible health you have to pay attention to how you nourish your body. Each day we fuel our bodies to perform and stay healthy, or at least we try to. Sometimes we might fall short and then feel the effects in the form of sluggishness and a decreased resistance to all of the nasty germs that float around. You might also notice that when you aren’t eating healthy foods that your emotional health also suffers. There is a powerful connection between vitamins and nutrients, or lack of, and our mood and overall state of mental health. Some foods and nutrients that are capable of turning a frown upside down have been shown to be as effective as traditional medications in treating some forms of depression. So, if you are looking for a natural and nutritious way to boost your mood and live your happiest and most fulfilling life, take a closer look at these nutrients.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Research has been telling us for some time that foods that are rich in good fats, such as certain types of fish, nuts and oils, are essential for brain health, cognitive function and mental well being. What we are now learning is that it is specifically the Omega 3 fats that are responsible for these brain boosting effects. Your nervous system is made mostly of fat. This means that every command that travels to and from your brain, every thought and emotion, travels along pathways that are sheathed in a fatty substance. In addition, Omega 3 fats make up about twenty percent of your brain cells, and are absolutely essential for brain function.
Some studies have specifically looked at the relationship between dietary amounts of Omega 3 fats and the occurrence of depression and anxiety. What they discovered was that when people who were diagnosed with and treated for depression increased their intake of Omega 3s, some of them found that the Omega 3 fats were as effective in treating their emotional disorders as traditional pharmaceuticals. Does this mean that you should toss your prescription and head to the fish market? No. This does not invalidate the importance of a diagnosis and proper care plan for depression and anxiety, which might include medication. Also, it is important to note that you must never self adjust the dosage or stop taking any antidepressant type medication without speaking to your doctor. However, the fact that Omega 3 fats can have such a powerful effect on our mood and mental health is noteworthy and it is certainly worth making a few healthy dietary adjustments.
The thing about Omega 3 fats is that your body will not produce them on its own. You must take in these types of fats from dietary sources in order to protect your brain health and boost your mood. Some of the foods that contain the highest amounts of Omega 3 fats are:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, trout and herring
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Walnuts and walnut oil
- Fish oil, including cod liver oil
If you have been feeling rundown, overstressed and depressed it’s possible you could be deficient in key B vitamins. B vitamin deficiency, especially vitamin B12, is a growing concern among the American population. Many people are deficient in B vitamins due to dietary factors; however there are also a great number of people who have health conditions, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases, which prevent proper absorption of vitamins. B vitamin deficiency is of special concern because not just because of how it can affect your body, but also because of the association of B vitamins with mental health and mood.
B vitamins help your nerve cells communicate with each other and are vital for brain health. B vitamins can also influence how much energy you have and how you cope with daily stressors. Research shows that as many as one third of people who are hospitalized due to depression are deficient in vitamin B 12, and some professionals estimate that number to actually be much higher. What is even more interesting is that when B 12 levels were monitored among those who were clinically depressed, those people who increased their intake showed overall improvement in their mental health compared to those whose levels of the powerful vitamin did not improve.
Folic acid, which is also a B vitamin, and B 12 both affect neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. B vitamins help to maintain myelin sheaths, which are fatty protein layers that surround and protect the cells of your nervous system. A main purpose of the myelin sheath is to help facilitate the communication between cells. When you are deficient in B vitamins, the myelin sheaths become worn down and less insulating. As communication between cells slows down, this can cause trouble for your cognitive function and mood. B 12 is also known to be involved in the production and synthesis of important mood chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and melatonin.
You can take individual supplements such as B 12 and folic acid, or you can take a supplement in the form of an inclusive B vitamin complex. However, it is always best to try to adjust your diet to include foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals rather than depending upon supplementation. Some excellent food sources of B vitamins include:
- Shellfish such as mussels, clams and crabs
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout
- Beef, including organ meats such as liver
- Green vegetables such as asparagus and spinach
Have you ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD? It is a mood disorder that seems to correlate with a change in seasons that result in more dark hours and less exposure to sunlight. People who suffer from SAD find themselves experiencing bouts of depression, hopelessness and fatigue. Researchers believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused, at least in part, by a decrease in levels of vitamin D. While you can get vitamin D from fortified foods such as dairy and cereal, for many people the main source of vitamin D comes from the sun. However, when you take into consideration modern lifestyles that have us indoors in buildings all day and plopped in front of a screen during our free time, it is easy to see how vitamin D deficiency has become an issue. Add to it that sunscreen can interfere with vitamin D absorption and that people with higher amounts of pigment in their skin are not able to absorb as much vitamin D and suddenly you can see how it is possible that an overwhelming number of people suffer from at least mild vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D activates genes that control the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Various studies have looked at the relationship between vitamin D and mental health and found that more often than not, in various groups of people, lower levels of vitamin D correlated directly with more depressive symptoms, especially in older people and postpartum women. Conversely, when more vitamin D was added through supplements, fortified foods and exposure to sunlight, those who suffered from depressive symptoms showed marked improvements in their mental health.
Good dietary sources of vitamin D include:
- Cod liver oil
- Fortified Milk
- Fortified Cereal
Do you spend your days feeling like you need more sleep than you should, always hitting the snooze button and dreaming of spending your weekend with your head on a pillow? Maybe you have noticed that you are indulging in more emotional eating lately and find yourself reaching for your favorite carbohydrate-heavy comfort foods. These traits, along with others such as extreme sensitivity to others actions and emotions are all symptoms of atypical depression. Atypical depression is the most common type of depression that we suffer from today. It turns out that there is a mineral that is found in some of your favorite foods that is thought to be helpful in treating this common but serious problem. This mineral is chromium picolinate.
Chromium picolinate is a trace mineral that is found in very small amounts in your body. It helps to metabolize food and regulate insulin levels. Just as importantly, it also helps to regulate important brain and mood chemicals such as serotonin, melatonin and norepinephrine. Between regulating insulin and brain chemicals, chromium helps to stabilize mood and depressive symptoms from several different angles. One study compared subjects who were given chromium supplements with those who were given placebos and found that those who were given the chromium showed marked improvements in mood and depressive symptoms whereas the control placebo group did not.
It is important to note that the subjects included in the study were given chromium in amounts that equaled approximately five times what the average person consumes. You can find chromium picolinate in supplement form, but you can also up your daily intake by keeping ample amounts of these delicious foods in your diet.
- Shellfish, including mussels and oysters
- Brazil Nuts
- Whole wheat foods
- Brewer’s yeast
- Grape juice
- Orange juice
Let’s Not Forget a Little Decadence
I think that it is safe to say that just the act of a little indulgence can be enough to lift the spirits. That said, if you indulge in a little decadence the correct way, you can do more to preserve those mood boosting benefits. What are some of the best foods to indulge in moderation while increasing your happiness factor? The big three are chocolate, wine and coffee.
Chocolate is a worldwide favorite. That is why it is such good news that dark chocolate boasts so many healthy attributes, including the way that it affects mood. It turns out that chocolate contains chemicals that cause a release of endorphins and a surge of energy and positive feelings. Chocolate also contains serotonin, which is important for mood stabilization. The key to enjoying your chocolate and the benefits that it provides is to remember that moderation is key and to always choose dark chocolate with at least sixty percent cocoa over sweeter milk chocolates.
Just like chocolate, red wine has been gaining a reputation as a treat that can actually improve your health, at least when consumed moderately. A Spanish study recently looked at the mental health and moods of people who consumed an average of one small glass of red wine per day. Their findings pointed to the conclusion that light to moderate consumption of red wine can leave people less prone to depression than their abstaining counterparts. The same components that are in red wine that help to protect your cardiovascular health are also thought to protect your mental health as well. Add to this that a glass of wine has a mild sedative effect that helps you to relax and slough off the stresses of the day. The key to the benefits of red wine is to remember that less is more. One small glass per day is enough to gain all of the positive health benefits, and if you overindulge you basically throw all of that goodness right out the window.
Finally, we can’t end this without mentioning one of our favorite drinks; a rich and full bodied cup of coffee. Coffee helps to improve blood flow and as soon as you have your first sip, your brain begins benefiting. Soon, you are feeling more alert, aware and energized. Yes, part of the energizing effect is from caffeine, but even decaffeinated coffee can help to boost mental performance and prevent emotional fatigue. Speaking of caffeine, if you can tolerate it, there is no reason to go without small amounts. In fact, it looks like there is actually evidence that it is a good thing to indulge a little bit. In a Harvard study, people who drank an average of two cups of caffeinated coffee per day were less prone to developing depression over the course of a ten year period. So, go ahead and enjoy your morning coffee without guilt or worry, which should be easy to do since coffee can help to fight off both of those negative emotions. Just remember to keep your caffeine consumption, including that found in other drinks and foods, to a moderate amount. Excessive amounts of caffeine can have the opposite effect of causing mental fog, anxiety and restlessness.