A healthy diet isn’t just about keeping your waistline in check, because smarter food choices can also help improve your mood, helping to ward off those dark times.
Felice Jacka, PhD, who is president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR) and the Australian Alliance for the Prevention of Mental Disorders says that "Eating several servings of fruits and veggies daily, along with whole grains, lean meats, and occasional treats is the best way to support good mental and physical health throughout life."
Dr. Jacka researched the relationship between diet and depression and it showed the importance of having a varied diet with healthy foods to boost our mood.
"The way that food interacts in our bodies to support or reduce health is highly complex," she says. "This is why reducing the focus to single nutrients or food components is of limited value."
With the everyday struggles of life, we all get those odd days where it seems impossible to shift that inexplicably low mood that has plagued us for no apparent reason.
So what foods should we turn to, to naturally help lift that dark cloud hanging over us?
Here are 10 foods to snack on when you're feeling blue.
Oily Fish - Fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and these fatty acids make up a large percentage, about 30% of our brain tissue. Eating oily fish regularly (at least one 140g serving a week) will keep your brain healthy and improve your mood, by keeping brain cells flexible. This allows the brain’s messaging chemicals known as neurotransmitters, work more effectively.
Brazil nuts - Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of the mineral selenium. Studies have shown that people who are low in this mineral have increased rates of depression, anxiety, irritability and tiredness. It only takes three brazil nuts to get your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of selenium, so why not have them as a mid-morning snack or chop and sprinkle them on a stir-fry or salad?
Bananas - Bananas contain vitamin A, B6 and C, fibre, phosphorus, potassium, iron, carbohydrates and the amino acid tryptophan. Mood-boosting carbohydrates help in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain and vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into the mood lifting hormone known as serotonin. This helps to boost your mood and also aids sleep. Because of its ability to raise serotonin levels, tryptophan has been used in the treatment of many conditions, such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.
Spinach - Certain deficiencies vitamin B have been linked to depression. This is because serotonin production, can actually be hindered by low B vitamin levels. Important B vitamins to look out for include B3, B6, B12, and folate. Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach will help to keep your levels up. A cup of cooked spinach provides nearly 30% of your RDA of a few B vitamins.
Lentils - Lentils are complex carbohydrate so, like bananas, they help to increase the brain's production of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. This results in less anxiety and a calmer, happier state of mind.
They also help to stabilise your blood sugar levels, keeping your mood on an even level. They are also high in folate, and deficiencies in folate have been linked to depression and mania. As well as all that, lentils can also help boost your iron levels, which will give you a nice energy boost.
Chicken and turkey - Chicken and turkey breast also help increase your intake of the amino acid tryptophan (the body uses tryptophan to make serotonin – one of the most important neurotransmitters when it comes to mood). Tryptophan also helps to make the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep. Another amino acid that lean poultry contains is tyrosine, this can help reduce depression before it kicks in. Tyrosine is used to make the adrenaline hormone and low levels of this have been associated with depression.
Cereal - Fortified breakfast cereal are are rich in Calcium and this has been shown to help reduce your levels of stress and anxiety. A cup of any fortified cereal can provide up to a third of your RDA of calcium, and a dinner of prawns and cooked spinach can help to top up your levels.
Oats - Oats have a low glycaemic index (GI) meaning they slowly release energy into the bloodstream. This keeps blood sugar and mood stable, as opposed to providing a rush that dips quickly, leaving you feeling more irritable. Oats also contain the mood-boosting mineral selenium, making them a great mood booster. Half a cup of porridge is a great way to start the day. Try it with a spoonful of honey and nuts or yoghurt for added protein.
Water - Our bodies need water to function properly and it is extremely important to drink enough of it. Even the smallest amount of water loss can impair on our physical and mental wellbeing. When we are dehydrated, our ability to concentrate can really be affected.
Experts recommend we drink 1-2 litres of water a day. But if a glass of water doesn’t take your fancy, remember that a cup of tea also counts towards that goal. Try starting each day with a cup of freshly boiled water with a slice of lemon, or add a fresh sprig of mint, cucumber or strawberries to a jug of cold water to add flavour.
Dark Chocolate - There's a really good reason why chocolate always seems to make things better. Just one small square of dark chocolate causes the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels. In a recent study, 30 lucky people were given 40g of dark chocolate, over a period of 14 days. The results showed that chocolate eaters produced less stress hormones and their anxiety levels decreased. A couple of small squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) is all it takes to lift your mood.