Do you suffer from sudden mood swings such as depression, anxiety, stress or anger? If so, you may be surprised to know that it could be down to your diet.
I've personally battled depression and low mood for most of my adult life. I've been on and off anti-depressants in all that time and because it just isn't a healthy way to live, the last time I became depressed I took action and tried talking therapies. My therapist recommended that alongside working on my triggers and building a positive outlook on life, I should take a long hard look at my diet. Apparently what we eat can affect our moods.
I was slightly perturbed by this, imagining that I was going to be drinking nothing but green tea and eating rice crackers for the rest of my life. But listen up; I have some good news for you. There's a reason why we automatically reach for the chocolate when we're stressed! Research suggests that chocolate—particularly dark chocolate—can help to reduce stress hormones. Just eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate can reduce the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamine in the body, which will allow your anxiety to decrease. If this is the way to eat myself happy, then I'm in!
Another mood food that works for anxiety, which I admit is my biggest bugbear, is salmon, and again, I love salmon! Salmon is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids and this is what helps to tame the anxiety monster, alongside anger and irritability. All cold-water fish will be beneficial so you can also try adding more herring, sardines and mackerel to your diet as well as salmon.
For general everyday narky crankiness you're probably better off eating foods that combine carbohydrate with protein or fat. Why? You may well ask. Crankiness is often a sign that you need something to eat and if you don't want to be cranky again in an hour's time it should be something that will slow burn and last a while within your body. Carbohydrates give you energy, but this tends to be used up quite quickly. By adding fat or protein the process is slowed down and sugar and energy levels remain higher for longer. So an apple with cheese, or an apple with peanut butter is a perfect snack solution to your crankiness!
Just as I envisaged though, green tea does make it to the good mood food list! Green tea is perfect for anyone who's feeling angry. Green tea contains theanine, which calms you down and allows you to maintain concentration and focus. It's very gentle on the body. Just reading that makes me feel all Zen-like.
If you're feeling really quite down in the dumps then you need to take a look at how much Vitamin D you're getting. Vitamin D is vital because it helps to produce serotonin, well known as the 'feel-good hormone'. Low levels of vitamin D make us more prone to feelings of depression and an unstable mood. You can boost your intake of vitamin D by eating a bowl of fortified cereal with low fat milk. Mushrooms will also do the trick. Yoghurt also contains vitamin D as does sunlight.
Another mineral that needs a boost in your body to ward off depression, irritability, anxiety and tiredness is selenium. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of the mineral selenium and you only need to eat three a day to stock up with the recommended daily amount. Cover them in dark chocolate and you literally will be laughing! You'll also find selenium in oats which themselves are an effective mood booster. They slowly release energy into the body, naturally helping to keep our blood sugar and mood stable.
So why not munch away on an oaty breakfast with a banana sliced into it? Bananas contain tryptophan (an amino acid) and vitamins A, B6 and C as well as fibre, potassium, phosphorous, iron and carbohydrate. Tryptophan helps to boost your mood and it also helps you to sleep well. Potassium in bananas is vital for those feeling stressed or tired. Bananas really are a super fruit!
Like bananas, lentils are a complex carbohydrate that helps to increase the brain's production of serotonin leading to a calmer, happier, less anxious you. Lentils will also boost iron levels and give you more energy. Ever since I was a student I have used lentils in soups and stews. They're really easy to digest. Yummy!
Another way to increase the tryptophan in your body which will help to make serotonin is to eat chicken and turkey. These meats also contain tyrosine, which is another amino acid, which helps to reduce symptoms of depression and even prevent getting the blues in the first place. Tyrosine is used to make the hormone adrenaline – low levels of which have been associated with depression. So for a really good mood food booster use chicken or turkey in a lentil soup or stew!
Last but not least, if you're looking for a super vegetable, you need look no further than Popeye's favourite – spinach. Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression – so you need to ensure you're getting enough folate, vitamins B3, B6 and B12. You can get a great deal of these from eating leafy green vegetables – such as spinach or broccoli. Spinach is very versatile and can be added to stir-fry and soups or it can be used raw in salads and sandwiches.
Finally I wanted to share with you all of the foods that I've cut out. Anything containing caffeine is a real no-no for me because the crash after the high can just about finish me off. The same is true of sugar – I get an instant pick me up followed by an energy crash which means I want more sugar and that is a cycle I really need to avoid. Finally, I have really limited my intake of alcohol now because while I feel great when I'm having a glass or two of wine, the next day I am horrible to be around.