The foods we eat every day play a vital role in how we feel mentally as well as physically. Our brain uses a whopping 20 per cent of our energy – more than any other organ – and it will come as no surprise that it requires good nutrients to work properly, repair and rejuvenate and keep us on an even keel.
Studies have shown people with depression boosted their mood by eating a healthier diet, and a classic Mediterranean diet rich in colourful veg, nuts, olive oil, fruit and wholegrains reduces your risk of developing depression by 30 per cent.
So what exactly is good mood food?
Research shows that specific nutrients – including vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids – have a vital role to play in helping balance our moods. It’s also important our meals contain good fats and protein to help us feel satisfied and keep energy levels up. The brain is around 60 per cent fat and the most cholesterol-rich organ in your body, so whether it’s from avocado, nuts or olive oil, don’t neglect fat in your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Studies have shown omega-3s are essential for brain health. Groups that don’t eat enough omega-3 have more incidences of depression.Omega-3s also boost the effectiveness of brain-messaging neurotransmitters. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, too, important as it’s thought inflammation is the underlying factor in many mental health conditions.
You can get more of this from flaxseeds and walnuts, oily fish and there are small amounts in leafy green veg.
Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D boosts the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps brain cells grow . Vitamin D is also anti-inflammatory and helps the brain be agile in adapting to its physical and emotional environment.
The main food source of vitamin D is fatty fish, so unless you’re getting plenty of sun (its other source), you should think about taking a supplement, as most of us in the UK are not getting enough.
Studies have linked low levels of selenium with depression. Its antioxidant qualities help protect the brain from pollution in the air we breathe, and free radicals in our body.
Brazil nuts are packed with it, but you’ll find it in lower amounts in other nuts, eggs and wholegrains.
Tryptophan and amino acids
Amino acids are essential for neurotransmitters, which transport messages around the brain. Tryptophan is the building block for mood-boosting hormone serotonin, but other amino acids are important, too. Taurine calms the brain, reducing anxiety and improving sleep, and most people are low in it. Glycine has also been used to combat anxiety.
You’ll find amino acids in protein-rich foods; and find tryptophan in eggs, beans and seeds.
B vitamins are great at boosting mental health , and folic acid improves your mood. Vitamin B12 in particular is important for the nervous system and vegans and strict vegetarians can often be deficient in this as it’s only found naturally in animal products.
You’ll find folic acid (B9) in leafy green veg such as spinach, kale, broccoli and cabbage, in beans, and wholegrains. B12 is found in eggs, dairy, fortified breakfast cereals and fortified non-dairy milks. B6 is found in wholegrain cereals, soyabeans, peanuts, dairy milk and eggs.
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