With the recent cooler weather and grey skies, the winter blues can start to settle in for some of us. We become less inclined to keep active and more likely to favour spending our spare time rugged up on the couch with comfort foods. While it may seem less than serious, for some people this is actually a legitimate condition known as SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that can warrant a visit to the doctor.
Research shows that diet plays a strong role in our mental health. The science is clear: to improve our mood, we need to be eating more plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
So why plants? Well, they have the following mood-lifting properties:
Research shows that those getting more antioxidants in their diet experience less depression and anxiety and have overall better mental health. We think this is because antioxidants have powerful anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. Antioxidants are found in all plant foods, especially fruit and vegetables, but ‘Lycopene’, responsible for the red pigment in plant foods, is the strongest antioxidant. It’s mostly found in tomatoes, but also watermelons, guavas, red grapefruits, red capsicums and persimmons.
Eating even a single meal rich in carbohydrates can boost our mood. Most plant foods contain carbohydrates. Not all carbs are mood-lifters though, so it’s important to choose the right ones. Less processed plant foods like fruits and vegetables, wholegrains (e.g. oats, wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice) and legumes (beans and lentils) are great, but refined carbohydrates, found especially in foods containing sugars and syrups, aren’t so great for our mood, or overall health.
People eating more folate-rich foods are less likely to be depressed. To see these benefits for yourself, make sure you’re sourcing your folate from foods and not supplements, which have not been shown to have the same effect. Folate is highest in beans and lentils (especially chickpeas, red lentils, black beans, kidney beans and adzuki beans), but it’s also found in foods like spinach, asparagus and sunflower seeds.
Tryptophan is an amino acid (i.e. a building block of proteins) that boosts serotonin in the brain, which is known as the ‘happiness hormone’ and is often deficient in people with depression. It helps to stabilise mood. The most effective forms of Tryptophan are found in seeds (not turkey, milk or tryptophan pills, as was previously thought), in particular pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
Lack of Inflammatory Mediators
Depending on what we eat, we can cause or prevent inflammation in our bodies. Inflammation is very damaging and promotes diseases and ageing. Something plant foods generally lack is inflammatory mediators (or things that cause inflammation), which be found in foods and formed in certain cooking processes. On the other hand, animal foods, like meats (especially processed and barbecued meats), dairy and eggs, may increase inflammation. Take care to avoid deep-fried plant foods like potato chips though, as this cooking method can also cause inflammation.
Besides these nutrients, there are various others linked to mental health. Certain mental illnesses and unstable moods can also be symptoms of a food intolerance.
Outside of nutrition, one of the strongest lifestyle interventions for improving mood is activity. Doing moderate or high intensity activity, like cycling, jogging, dancing or even housework, is known for it’s ‘natural high’ effect. This is due to the release of endorphins, which make us feel happier and less stressed.
Research shows that for people suffering from depression, incorporating daily exercise can be as effective as anti-depressant drugs! If you are having difficulty getting active then perhaps come and talk to one of our Chiropractors who could advise you on ways to get some movement into your day.
So if you suffer from any of the conditions or symptoms mentioned, or simply want to improve your mood and have more energy, come and see me at the clinic. I will assess your current diet and lifestyle, provide education where it’s needed, and design a mood-lifting dietary plan and lifestyle prescription catered to your individual needs.
It’s important to note that while these recommendations can have a big influence on one’s mental state, they will not work for all individuals. If you are currently using medical or psychological therapies to manage mental illness, do not replace them with these recommendations without seeking the advice of your health professional first.
Watch out for some delicious mood-lifting recipes we’ll be posting in the next week.