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What's Your Food Doing For Your Mood?
You are what you eat – right down to your mood. Though you might not realise it, your diet can have a dramatic impact on the way you feel.
Although a serving of salmon won’t cure serious depression, it can sometimes mean the difference between a smile and a frown on your Monday morning face. And, as you know, how you feel can significantly impact upon how motivated you are to stick to your weight-control goals.
Read on to find out which foods can improve your mood and which ones are best avoided if you want to stay on track with your goals.
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Depression, diet and weight control
Overweight people are not always depressed; depressed people are not always overweight; but there is a well-established and undeniable link between the two. It’s not just a simple chicken-egg question of cause and effect though – this is a hen-house of “which came first?” Lack of motivation, unhealthy eating, weight gain, difficulty exercising, and depression are all intricately connected, and it’s hard to say which leads to which.
However, one thing we do know is that food can affect mood, sometimes dramatically – just witness a six-year-old after five too many red cordials! Many people who have depression find that when they change some aspect of their diet, the symptoms of their depression also change.
If you struggle with mood swings or simply wish you had more energy, take a look at what you’re eating. How many “do” foods are you getting? How many “don’t” foods make their way into your daily diet?
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a kind of healthy fat found in many types of fish, as well as some other foods.
In countries where people eat more fish, such as Scandinavian and East Asian nations, there tend to be lower rates of depression. Research suggests that this is because the omega-3 fats in fish have anti-depressant-like effects.
Salmon, tuna and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but if you don’t like fish, you can also try walnuts, flaxseed oil, canola oil or omega-3 enriched eggs.
If you are pregnant or planning pregnancy and for children 6 years and under, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) advises that 2 - 3 serves of most fish and seafood per week may be safely consumed, with some exceptions. Exceptions are: Orange Roughy (Sea Perch) or Catfish: 1 serve per week and no other fish that week; Shark (Flake) or Billfish (Swordfish/Broadbill and Marlin): 1 serve per fortnight and no other fish that week.
Think carbs, think “comfort food”? There’s a reason for that connection. Complex carbohydrates boost serotonin levels in the brain; serotonin is a “good mood” chemical. A steady supply of complex carbohydrates also keeps blood-sugar levels on an even keel, and a steady blood-sugar level can help control mood fluctuations.
Whole grains, wholegrain breads, brown rice, beans and vegetables are your best choices of complex carb foods as these are unrefined - i.e. they are less processed than refined complex carb foods such as white rice and white bread. Simple carb foods, such as lollies, cakes, and other sugary foods, are not good mood-enhancers and are best avoided.
Minerals can also make a difference to mood. Here are a few to consider:
Too much alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant – full stop. It can lower serotonin levels during consumption and increase anxiety levels after consumption. That’s not to say a glass of wine will send you spiralling into never-never-smile-again land, but the euphoric feelings associated with alcohol are deceptive and temporary. If you have depression or are experiencing low mood, alcohol will generally make you feel worse and is best avoided.
Too much added sugar
Feelings of depression often improve when the amount of added sugar in a person’s diet is reduced. Added sugar is any type of sugar that is added to food, such as the sugar you use in cooking, or add to your coffee, or the sugar that is used to sweeten soft drinks, ice cream, yoghurt, and many other foods. Although sugar can sometimes give you a quick lift, it can also leave you feeling quite down after the effects wear off. Foods high in sugar can also cause your blood-sugar levels to fluctuate; this fluctuation can affect mood as well, especially if you experience a blood-sugar crash and get suddenly hungry. Instead of eating a biscuit to cheer yourself up, try fresh fruit, popcorn, or low-fat cheese and crackers.
Too much of anything!
Overeating raises insulin and cortisone levels, and lowers testosterone levels – all of these hormonal changes have been associated with depression. Overeating, especially bingeing, can also lead to blood-sugar imbalance, which in turn can cause mood swings.
In the bigger picture, overeating is an emotional issue all of its own – many people turn to food when faced with emotional stress. Though food may provide momentary relief from negative feelings, the aftermath of overeating, or eating for emotional needs, is usually guilt and more negative feelings. It's better to call on a friend than your fridge when you're feeling down.
The smile-more diet
Healthy food is not a cure-all. It won't make depression disappear or satisfy your deep emotional needs, but there's no doubt it can help to improve your mood.
If you eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet, high in fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and low-fat protein, you are on the right track to keeping your mood and your body healthy – and it won’t hurt your waistline either!
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Last updated: February 7th, 2006
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