This week TMBL welcomes Lily Berkley. Lily writes on behalf of an ethical online healthcare business. One of her main priorities is to help people understand how prevention and healthy living are so much better than any cure. Lily wrote for this blog once before (on the topic of healing herbs) and now she’s back to give us the lowdown on superfoods to boost mental health.
5 Foods to Naturally Lift Your Mood
It’s natural to feel sad from time to time, but these feelings usually pass within a matter of days. If your mood is depressed for several weeks though, particularly if this impacts on your day-to-day life, it’s a sign of something more serious.
As these feelings can affect your physical health, your dietary intake and may encourage you to take up unhelpful habits to cope, it’s essential that you visit your doctor for advice. However, if you are prone to occasional bouts of low mood it’s good to know that including certain nutrient-rich foods within your diet may help to lift your spirits. Here we take a look at five foods to include regularly.
1. Brazil nuts
These nuts are packed with the mineral selenium, so much so that just one nut meets your daily requirements for this essential nutrient. Studies have linked poor intakes of selenium with low mood, anxiety and tiredness, which may in part be down to the fact that selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the nerves and brain cells from damage.
A drop in selenium levels in the brain also disturbs the production of two important brain chemicals – serotonin and dopamine – which usually promote feelings of well-being. Although soil levels of selenium have been depleted by intensive farming, fish and seafood remain another good source of this mineral, while red meat and poultry also offer useful amounts.
This oily fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for our brains to function as these essential fats are abundant in our brain cells.
Overall people are including less of these fats in their diet, owing to a greater reliance on processed foods, which are higher in omega-6 fatty acids. This may explain why clinical depression and related mental health problems are now more common. For instance, in eating disorders, where low mood may be a trigger or a consequence, low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and increased ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 are associated with depression.
Increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids may therefore play a role in the rehabilitation of people suffering from anorexia and its associated conditions. Following the paleo diet is one way to provide the ideal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, thanks to the importance placed on seafood in the diet, while avoiding processed vegetables oils. Upping your intake of fish such as herring, salmon, sardines, fresh tuna and unsalted anchovies, walnuts, flax seeds and grass-fed meats also offer a useful source of omega-3 oils.
These handy snacks are rich in a number of nutrients important for mood. Firstly, bananas contain useful amounts of an amino acid known as tryptophan. This amino acid is converted to the feel-good chemical serotonin with the help of vitamin B6, which bananas are also rich in.
Other good sources of tryptophan include chicken, turkey, game meat, liver, tuna, shrimp, snapper, berries, tropical fruits, green vegetables and nuts. However, bananas are additionally rich in potassium, which is important for the delivery of nerve impulses.
Chicken and turkey are both rich in another amino acid called tyrosine, which plays a role in dopamine production. Levels of dopamine are depleted under stress, as tyrosine is also needed for the production of the stress hormone epinephrine, so it’s especially important if stress is contributing to your low mood to up your intake of foods rich in this amino acid.
Other foods that offer tyrosine in useful amounts include avocados, fish and almonds. Ensuring a good supply of tyrosine for dopamine production also helps to protect you from one of the other consequences of depleted dopamine, which is substance addiction and may explain why someone suffering from low mood is more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.
Like other green vegetables, spinach is rich in the B vitamin folate. Low folate levels are linked to depression and people taking antidepressants are less likely to respond well to treatment when their intake of this B vitamin is inadequate.
This may be because folate plays an important role in the breakdown of a substance called homocysteine – high levels of which have been linked to depressed mood – which as a by-product generates serotonin and dopamine. If you’re not keen on spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and broccoli are also rich in folate, but minimize cooking times for these vegetables, as heating reduces their folate content.
Failing that, avocados, tomato juice, orange juice and cow’s liver will boost your intake.
Weigh in: Do you eat any of the above regularly? Would you add anything to the list? Do you think your diet contributes to your mental health?