Right now, it seems we are surrounded by negativity. Everywhere you look, COVID-19 is dominating our news programs, social media and newspapers. We’re bombarded with statistics telling us of cases and deaths and hospitalisations, what we can and can’t do, where we can and can’t go. You’d be forgiven if you thought the world was about to come to an end! We rarely hear anything to do with the thousands of cases tested and cleared. Occasionally we hear of ‘the curve’ flattening out, but that’s about it.
With all this ‘doom and gloom’ hovering over us, it would be quite easy to let it affect us mentally. After all, your everyday routine is out of whack. You can’t just go about your business anymore. No visits to friends and family. No lunch or dinner dates. No movies. No catch ups with the boys or girls. And for many, no gym!! This can have quite a negative impact on people’s psyche.
We all know of the power of exercise and sunshine (and nature in general) for boosting our mood, but today I wanted to discuss some ‘superhero’ foods and some powerful ‘sidekick’ nutrients that may have a mood-boosting effect.
For nutrients. We should be looking for the following:
- VITAMIN C
Vitamin C is essential to your body’s ability to make neurotransmitters, including dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters provide mood stability and the prevention of depression.
In 2013, a clinical trial published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition replenished blood levels of vitamin C to normal among acutely hospitalised patients. They saw a 71% reduction in mood disturbance and a 51% reduction in psychological distress. And a 2018 study on 139 young adult males found that those who consumed the most vitamin C had the lowest reported feelings of depression, confusion, and anger.
- VITAMIN B6
The goal of many antidepressants is to increase serotonin uptake. As it turns out, B-vitamins can have a similar effect.
For example, vitamin B6 is effective in treating premenstrual depression. And your body needs it to make mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin. Studies have found that B6 deficiency can lead to depression.
- OMEGA 3 FATS
Your brain is 60% fat. And it needs healthy fats to function well.
Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have a huge impact on the maintenance of healthy brain function in people of all ages.
People with plenty of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), especially have been found to experience less depression.
And other studies have found that omega-3s are effective in improving depression symptoms among adults and children.
Research shows that people with the worst depression often have the lowest levels of zinc. Zinc deficiency can lead to symptoms of depression, ADHD, difficulties with learning and memory, seizures, aggression, and violence.
On the other hand, zinc replenishment has been found to be therapeutic in treating mood disorders.
Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 reactions in your body. However, about half of us don’t get enough of it.
Why is that a problem? Because your body needs magnesium to facilitate the hormone balance, enzyme activity, and neurotransmitter function that regulate your mood and overall health. The role of magnesium isn’t exactly news, either. As a result of a benchmark study in 1921, magnesium became the first medically acknowledged substance used to treat depression.
- VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Why? Because the only way to get it naturally is by exposing your body to sunshine.
Our ancestors lived outdoors and didn’t wear much clothing. Today, most people work indoors and wear clothes much of the time.
Vitamin D deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world today. In fact, an estimated 40% to 60% of the world’s adult population don’t get enough vitamin D. This is a shame because vitamin D can increase production of the neurotransmitters associated with mood, like serotonin. Research has also shown that vitamin D supplementation helps maintain a positive mental state.
Onto some foods now. The best mood boosting foods to include in your diet are:
Berries are a favourite antioxidant-containing food for many reasons. One of which is because they help make your brain happy. Studies have shown that the flavonoids in blueberries can improve your mood.
Avocados are rich in B vitamins — particularly vitamin B6. And they’re a rich source of folate. One avocado provides around one-third of your daily folate needs. And when it comes to magnesium, one avocado provides around 15% of your daily needs.
Walnuts have many brain-protective compounds, such as vitamin E, folate, antioxidant polyphenols. They also contain omega-3 fats, which have been shown to improve mood.
Calm down chocoholics! We’re talking dark chocolate. The darker, the better. And not a whole block at a time!
So why is chocolate considered one of the top mood-boosting foods? For one thing, it contains phenethylamine, which triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins. When you become infatuated or fall in love, the brain releases phenethylamine. It also potentiates the action of dopamine, a neurochemical associated with sexual arousal and pleasure.
As if that weren’t enough, chocolate also contains polyphenols, which have been shown to have a positive impact on mood. This has led researchers to suggest they be studied more for their role in depression therapies. Darker chocolate contains more polyphenols.
- GREEN TEA
While technically a drink, green tea deserves a spot on the list of mood-boosting foods. Green tea has many benefits. Research has linked it to lower rates of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other ailments.
One type of green tea, matcha, is a particularly rich source of the amino acid L-theanine, which can help you to relax and maintain a calm demeanour.
- BRAZIL NUTS
Low dietary selenium has been shown to increase the risk of depressive disorders. And researchers suggest that selenium-rich foods could be beneficial for primary prevention.
Did you know that a single Brazil nut can provide twice your daily selenium needs? Because they are such a potent source of selenium, it’s usually recommended not to eat more than four or five Brazil nuts per day to make sure you don’t get a selenium overdose!
Probiotics are the “good bacteria” in your gut. They produce serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. No wonder probiotics have been shown to improve depression. Fermented foods, such as tempeh, miso, natto, and sauerkraut, support healthy gut bacteria.
A 2008 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that low sodium, high potassium diets had a positive impact on mood.
Though there is no RDA for potassium, it’s often recommended that you get around 1600-2000 mg per day. One banana can provide over 450 mg. Bananas are also rich in vitamin B6, which your body needs to synthesise serotonin.
Broccoli is rich in chromium, which can increase your body’s levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin. Because chromium works directly with mood regulators, it has been found to be an effective treatment for depression.
- CHICKPEAS and LENTILS
Chickpeas contain folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, fibre, and phosphorus. And a single cup of chickpeas provides over 50% of the daily value for vitamin B6.
To prevent deficiency, many nutrition experts suggest eating about 400 mcg of folate per day. One cup of cooked lentils can provide around 90% of this amount — and might help to prevent depression.
When our mood is feeling flat, keeping most or some of these foods handy during a lockdown could go a long long way to helping not just your mental health, but also your overall health!