Can your diet really put you in a good mood, and can what you eat and drink put you in a bad mood? Although diet changes are not a cure all for depression, they can help as part of an overall treatment plan.
Dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain structure (chemically and physiologically), which can lead to altered behavior.
So how should you change your diet if you want to try to improve your mood?
Below you’ll find some suggestions. They offer health benefits above and beyond improving your mood, so try to incorporate as many as possible.
1. Regardless of the latest diet trends, don’t eliminate carbohydrates completely – just choose wisely.
A nonessential amino acid called tryptophan is the connection between carbohydrates and mood. Tryptophan enters the brain and helps synthesize more serotonin and mood tends to improve. Serotonin is made naturally in the brain from tryptophan with some help from the B vitamins.
However, while tryptophan is found in almost all protein-rich foods, other amino acids are better at passing from the bloodstream into the brain. So you can actually boost your tryptophan levels by eating more healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables; they seem to help eliminate the competition for tryptophan, so more of it can enter the brain.
Research has shown that eating a low carbohydrate diet can lead to brain fog, fatigue and subsequently less enthusiasm for activity, which is of course another endorphin booster.
2. Increase your intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Recent research has shown that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts) may help protect against depression. This makes sense physiologically, since omega-3s appear to affect neurotransmitter routes in the brain. Shoot for two to three servings of fish per week.
3. Eat a Balanced Breakfast
Although whether you do or do not eat breakfast will not make or break any weight loss efforts (weight loss will always be about creating a caloric deficit), eating a good breakfast regularly can lead to improved mood in those who suffer from depression. And what makes up a good breakfast; some lean protein, good fats, and whole-grain carbohydrates.
4. Keep Exercising and if you Need to Lose Weight, do it Slowly
Even without obesity as a cause, depression was linked with lower amounts of moderate or vigorous physical activity. In many people, I would suspect that depression feeds the obesity and vice versa.
Research shows that in those who are overweight, slow weight loss can improve mood. Fad dieting isn't the answer, because cutting too far back on calories and carbohydrates can lead to irritability. And if you're following a low-fat diet, be sure to include plenty of foods rich in omega-3s (see #2).
5. Limit Caffeine Intake
In people with sensitivity, caffeine may exacerbate depression and if caffeine keeps you awake at night, this could potentially affect your mood the next day. Those at risk could try limiting or eliminating caffeine for a month or so to see if it improves mood.
Beyond mood and general well-being, the role of diet and nutrition on mental health is very complex and has yet to be fully understood. However, research connecting the two is growing rapidly and in recent years, evidence shows that food can play a role in the development, prevention, and management of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.
Following a healthy eating plan can keep you energized and help you to feel your best. While good nutrition is an important component of your emotional well-being, it is not a substitute for proper medical care and treatment.