Most of us have days when we feel great: energetic, enthusiastic, clear-headed, content, and well-balanced. We also have those other days when we feel down: sluggish, unmotivated, forgetful, irritable, helpless, and hopeless.
Compelling scientific evidence shows that mental health and physical health are absolutely intertwined, and we now understand that the link between mood and nutrition is much stronger than previously thought. The prevention and management of many diseases rely on our genetic individuality, our environment, stress management, and healthy lifestyle habits – and nutrition is the foundation of a healthy body and mind.
Healthy eating habits can be challenging to maintain with our modern lifestyle, which can generate feelings of stress that can disrupt our good intentions, which in turn can affect our mood. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help you feel happier and healthier:
- Don’t skip breakfast, and eat three well-balanced meals. Simply skipping breakfast is associated with lower fluency and problem-solving ability, along with lack of energy and motivation.
- Eat good sources of protein. These include eggs, fish, poultry and lean meats. Protein consists of amino acids, the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps stabilize blood sugar, which can interfere with concentration and mood when elevated (hyperglycemia).
- Avoid high-sugar foods or refined carbohydrates, such as bagels, doughnuts, and other refined grain products, and cereals. Concentrated fruit juices have the same effect as drinking a soda.
- Eat at least 8 servings of vegetables every day. Try to get all of the colors of the rainbow. One serving = ½ cup. See the website ewg.org to see the produce with the highest and lowest pesticide content to make the best choices.
- Mind your dietary fats: Found in both plant and animal foods, these play a significant role in brain function. Omega-3 fats from foods such as fish, flax seeds, some eggs, and grass-fed beef have been shown to improve cognitive function and lower depression by reducing inflammation. Excessively low-fat diets, as well as diets high in processed foods, are linked to mood changes.
- Choose beverages wisely: Drink plenty of filtered water to improve blood flow and keep your brain well-hydrated. Avoid sugary drinks or those with artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or preservatives. Limit or avoid alcohol, and limit coffee intake. Green tea has been shown to reduce anxiety and sharpen mental focus while relaxing the mind.
- Vitamins are key: Take a high quality, natural vitamin and mineral supplement daily. Many of the B vitamins such as B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), folate, and B12 (methylcobalamin) have been shown to reduce the incidence of depression. Low levels of Vitamin D3 increase one’s risk of major depression. Also, low levels of magnesium, selenium, and zinc are linked to mood changes.
Will eating fast foods lead to an increased risk for depression?
Eating fast foods like hamburgers, sausages, and pizza, as well as commercial baked goods such as muffins, doughnuts, and croissants has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of depression (Sanchez-Villegas et al., Public Health Nutr. 2012).
Can you eat yourself into a bad mood in just two days?
A study with 44 college students at Penn State University revealed that the more calories, saturated fat, and sodium they ate, the more negative mood they reported two days later. The researchers suggest that the food causes mood shifts (Hendy, Appetite, 2012). If you find yourself in a bad mood, look at what you are eating.
Can being bored drive you to eat?
Researchers at the North Dakota State University would say “yes”! In a sample of 552 college students, they discovered that those prone to being bored and lacking emotional coping skills led to inappropriate eating behavior, like eating when bored or in response to negative emotions (Crockett et al., J Health Psychol. 2015).
Is a Mediterranean diet protective against depression?
We already know that a Mediterranean diet full of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, and olive oil reduces inflammation and may be beneficial for heart health. A large study with 10,094 healthy Spanish people showed that eating a Mediterranean diet was protective for the prevention of depressive disorders (Sanchez-Villegas et al., Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2009).