We know food fuels our bodies, but it is important to realize that what we eat can also affect our mood. Sure, when we’re down, a lot of us reach for chocolate or comfort food like mac and cheese or mashed potatoes. But would different food choices be more effective at lifting our spirits?
Some comfort foods give us a boost partly because they’re what the nurturers from our past might have fed us, but also because they help produce serotonin and other mood-enhancing brain chemicals. Carbohydrates, for example, increase levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which can be converted to serotonin and boost our feeling of well-being. For some people, carbs work wonders for their psyche; unfortunately, a high-carbohydrate meal leaves others feeling tapped out.
Many nutritionists agree that foods high in B6 and other B vitamins, such as spinach and other leafy green vegetables, plus whole grains, fish and poultry, are crucial to producing the chemicals that enhance our mood. However, alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, nicotine, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can all deplete levels of the B-complex vitamins, so even those eating a diet high in B6 might consider taking a vitamin supplement as well. In addition to the B vitamins, eating fish or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, cutting back on foods laden with chemicals and preservatives and staying hydrated could help ward off the blues, according to Jeannie Crabtree, who wrote the article “Depression Help the Natural Way” for Health-Doc.com.
The real problems start when you try to treat that dragged-down feeling with caffeine and sugar, thinking they’ll perk you up. They will, briefly, but then comes the crash, and you’re worse off than before. According to Selene Yeager, author of “Prevention’s New Foods for Healing,” a study of 20 people with serious depression showed that cutting all sugar and caffeine from their diets significantly improved their depression levels.
Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., who writes a blog titled “The Food Doctor”, suggests that people who are mildly depressed completely cut out refined sugar: “No sweetened cereals, no breads or bean salads with sugar in them, no muffins, no cookies, no jams, no desserts. This means careful label reading, as well as very conscious eating.” Colbin also suggests avoiding canned or frozen foods and tracking your protein intake because protein can combat sugar cravings.
If you’re lucky, beating the blues might be as simple as drinking more water and taking a B vitamin. If not, a sober look at your diet and some serious changes may be in order. If your happiness is at stake, it’s surely worth a try.