FEATURE: Food and Mood
Written by Rebbecca Hagler | Reviewed by Adiana Castro, MS, RDN, CDN, CLT
While there is no magic food that can cure depression or put an automatic smile on your face, there are a number of foods that can’t hurt. With more and more research on the topic each week, we are just starting to learn how to modulate our mood with nutrition. As with any clinical study of mood, one of the most important buzz words is the hormone serotonin. This mood regulator is critical in day-to-day mood, and a rise in this compound is directly correlated to a boost in mood. A variety of foods and nutrients are known to increase serotonin, including fish, sources of vitamin D, and numerous carbohydrates. However, its easy to eat the wrong carbohydrates in pursuit of a positive mood, so it is important to pursue carbohydrates wisely, choosing whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.
Aside from the common knowledge of carbohydrates promoting positive mood, new research has shown omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, found primarily in fatty fish, have a strong role in protecting us from depression. These fatty acids, found in salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, sardines and even grass-fed beef, are a useful tool to use to improve your mood. Aim for 2-3 servings of fish a week for the best impact! Go Mediterranean!
An easy way to shift towards a diet with a variety of ‘good for you benefits’, both for body and mind is to start following a Mediterranean diet pattern. This diet is popular in the Mediterranean region and is linked to longevity and a reduced risk for a variety of chronic disease states. The Mediterranean diet is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts with a moderate amount of protein and olive oil: all serotonin promoting foods, many of which are rich in Omega-3’s. One nutrient found in many foods across the Mediterranean diet that has been linked to an increase in depression when intake is too low is folate. Folate is a vitamin found in leafy greens, nuts, fruits and legumes (all Mediterranean diet staples). Try adding these to your diet, or switching to a Mediterranean diet pattern to gain the most benefits for mind and body.
While everything is best in moderation, some early research is pointing out one compound as particularly critical in mood regulation. Selenium intake has been shown to significantly improve depression in a small study, and, while more study is needed, it can’t hurt to start adding these foods to your weekly meal planning. Foods rich in selenium include: oysters, legumes, nuts, whole grains, many fish and whole grains. Coincidently, many of these are staples in the Mediterranean diet as well. One easy way to boost your selenium intake is to eat one or two Brazil Nuts each day. Just that small serving will get your up to your daily recommended intake!
While research on this topic is still in its infancy, it cannot hurt to adjust your weekly meal planning to include some of the foods mentioned above. Early data suggests that a move to a Mediterranean diet likely will have the greatest impact for your health overall, but making small changes to your diet can yield benefits as well, both to your mood and your overall nutrition.