As I'm sure a lot of you are aware, I have long suffered with depression, anxiety, low mood and low self-esteem.
Through a combination of medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, support from friends and family and a lot of effort on my own part, I am doing a lot better these days. Having said that, things still aren't 'perfect', I still have low days or periods. Sometimes, the fact that I'm having a bad day can be made worse just by being disappointed that I'm not doing so well.
I've read things before about the effects that certain foods can have on your mood. Not in terms of indulging in treats to make you feel better, but foods that actually contain nutrients that can help lift or maintain better moods. To be honest, I've always been a bit sceptical, but scepticism is kind of my default setting. Recently I got to a point where I just wanted to be able to do something else to help myself, plus, as I'm always attempting to eat better and watch my weight, so I decided to do some research, then headed out to Waitrose to pick up supplies.
It probably won't come as much of a surprise that research generally supports the idea that a healthier diet (less processed food, less high fat food, fewer refined sugars etc) has a positive impact on people who suffer with depression. However, there are also some specific nutrients and foods that get highlighted as having particular benefit for mood in general.
Essential Fatty Acids
Fatty Acids are important in the transmission of signals in your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important and can improve sensitivity to serotonin - the neurotransmitter most associated with feeling happy.
The best sources of Omega-3 include fish and seafood, but spinach, broccoli, Brazil nuts, pecans, sesame seeds and houmous are also good sources.
Unfortunately, I'm really not a fan of seafood or fish, but I love houmous, and spinach, broccoli and nuts are all things I don't mind too much, so they went on the shopping list.
Folate and Vitamin B12
Both Folate and Vitamin B12 are important in the creation of serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. Some studies have shown that a folate deficiency can reduce the effectiveness of antidepressant medications.
Foods including peanuts, spinach, lentils, some types of beans, chickpeas and brown rice are good sources of Folate, but a lot of breakfast cereals are fortified with folate too.
For Vitamin B12, eat milk, cheese, eggs, meats and salmon.
Again, while I wouldn't ever put them on a list of my favourite foods, I can eat spinach, lentils, beans and brown rice without too much objection, and chickpeas are the main constituent of houmous!! While eggs aren't something I like, milk, cheese and meat are all fine on the B12 front.
Antioxidants work to prevent damage to nerves that can affect how signals are sent and received in the brain. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are both important antioxidants.
Obviously, oranges are great for Vitamin C, but blackcurrants, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, sweet potato and kiwi fruit are as well.
For Vitamin E, sunflower oil, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach and kiwi fruit are all great sources.
Strawberries are my absolute favourite fruit, I would eat them all the time except I will only buy British strawberries and they're only in season in late spring into summer. Sweet potato isn't something I've ever eaten very much of, so that might be something I need to try out a bit more, but peppers and broccoli are pretty standard veg in my diet.
To be honest, no-one really seems to be sure what Selenium does, but they are pretty sure it's important for brain function and mood.
Brazil Nuts are the single best source of selenium you can get but kidney, tuna, crab and lobster contain a lot too.
I've never been a big fan of nuts, but I've discovered that Brazil nuts covered in a little dark chocolate really aren't too bad at all. Plus, dark chocolate is one of those things that's also help your mood, in small quantities anyway :)
This list isn't exhaustive, and different sources contain loads of different nutrients and foods that have potential benefits for brain function and mental health.
I only picked up a few additional things really. Fruit, muesli, almonds and Brazil nuts. I would have bought fruit anyway really, especially as there are so many British strawberries around at the moment. I've been trying to eat more oat based breakfast cereals, for general health reasons, but oats are also a source of folate and this muesli has loads of nuts in too. I had to go with Brazil nuts and have also heard good things about almonds, so I chucked those in the basket too.
The fruit was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I'm really struggling to get into the muesli; too many raisins for my liking and nowhere near sweet enough, I've had to put a fair bit of sugar on to make myself eat it. I wasn't sure about the nuts at first, but once I drizzled the Brazil's in dark chocolate I've been getting on with them much better.
Now, this is nothing like a scientific experiment, so I'm struggling to think how to round this up. I did feel better after thinking more about what I've been eating. I can't say for sure if that's anything to do with the food though, it could be the good weather we had when I started this (not this last week, obviously!) or I could have been on an up anyway, which is why I felt so inspired to try these things out.
There is scientific evidence out there that supports these theories though, so they're probably worth sticking with. Plus, most of this is just about having a generally healthier diet, so it's hardly going to be wasted effort!
My will power is notoriously weak, so I've not really stuck to this plan as tightly as I maybe should have. I've had cake and chocolate and ice-cream too, but I know their pick-me-up effect is always short lived. I'm just not sure I'll ever get into treating myself with a chocolate Brazil or bowl of muesli :/ lol
Hope you have all been keeping well,
Nutrition and Depression: Implications for Improving Mental Health Among Childbearing-Aged Women
L.M. Bonday & K.L. Wisner (2005)
Biological Psychiatry 58 (9) 679-685