Our diet not only supports our physical health, but there is increasing evidence that it can influence our mental health too. Eating a balanced diet and regular meals with healthy sources of CHO (wholegrains, F&V, legumes) can help maintain steady blood glucose. This helps us to concentrate and focus, as well as keeping our energy up, all of which can help us stay in a positive frame of mind. Also, try to avoid foods which make your blood sugar levels rise and fall very quickly like sugary drinks, snacks and alcohol.
Another reason to reduce your alcohol intake is that alcohol is a depressant. Although you might feel that it will help alleviate your low mood in the short term, it is likely to cause negative effects on your mood in the long term.
You may also have heard about serotonin, sometimes referred to as the “happy hormone”. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain which is thought to improve how we feel. Some lifestyle factors have been shown to increase serotonin production such as exercise and exposure to bright daylight, as well as a healthy balanced diet (1).
There are some nutrients which can have an effect on your mood (2);
Low intakes can cause low levels of oxygen to be carried by haemoglobin in the blood, making you feel weak and tired all the time.
Red meat, poultry and fish are good sources of iron. Legumes, fortified cereals and vegetables are also plant sources of iron.
Low intake can increase tiredness and depressive feelings.
Fortified wholegrain cereals and animal protein (fish, meat, dairy and eggs) are all great sources of B vitamins.
Not enough folate in the diet can increase chances of feeling depressed.
Liver, green veg, citrus fruits, beans and fortified breakfast cereals will provide folate.
Low intakes have been shown to possibly increase negative moods.
Brazil nuts, meat, fish, seeds and wholemeal bread contain selenium.
Sufficient intake of zinc has been shown to reduce depression symptoms (3).
Animal protein and fortified cereals are particularly good sources of zinc.
Omega-3 fatty acid
Omega-3 is one of the essential fatty acids which can’t be produced by our body. Some research has suggested that it can increase the production of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) in the brain which can help protect against depression.
Oily fish, nuts and seeds are all good sources of omega-3.
In summary, eating a diet full of fruit and veg, wholegrain carbohydrates, protein and including oily fish at least once a week will help towards keeping your mood more buoyant. Having a regular meal pattern, as well as eating breakfast, will also help as this will keep your energy up throughout the day.
For more useful tips on food and mood take a look at these websites:
- Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399
- Sathyanarayana Rao TS, Asha MR, Ramesh, BN, Jagannatha Rao KS. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun(2): 77-82
- Sawada T, Yokoi K. Effect of zinc supplementation on mood states in young women: a pilot study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010 (64): 331-333