Why these nutrient-dense foods could help lift your spirits:

You may have heard about how the food we eat affects our moods.  Medicine has long separated physical health from mental health, but a growing body of research supports the notion that food actually effects both.  What does that all mean for you?

Properties in food are helpful to boost your mood

Science has shown that certain diets, rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains,  omega-3 fatty acids and other fortified nutrients affect your mind and body in a positive way.  Here’s a round-up of a few to try:

– The Mediterranean Diet: this way of eating has repeatedly shown benefits of boosting mental health.  It’s known for high intakes of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish, chicken and olive oil but lower intakes of red meats.

“Whole grains provide serotonin–our brain’s “feel good” chemical and are a nutrient-dense form of fuel for our bodies.”

– Whole foods: meaning, unprocessed foods are more helpful to your health as they tend to have lower amounts of refined carbs and are generally lower in sugar.  Diets higher in refined carbs and sugar (think white bread and soda) tend to increase inflammation and oxidative stress while impairing your body’s ability to adequately regulate insulin. This leads to worsening mood disorders, like depression.  

– Complex carbs: (ie. WHOLE GRAINS!)   Whole grains provide serotonin–our brain’s “feel good” chemical and are a nutrient-dense form of fuel for our bodies.  

– Omega-3 fatty acids: these are the good guys when it comes to fats!  Omega-3s have been linked to fighting off feelings of depression and are found in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and fish.  

– Vitamin D: Low vitamin D has been linked to depression and mood disorders.  It’s found naturally in fatty fish, liver, egg yolks and of course, via the sun!  It’s also fortified in dairy products, orange juice and cereals.

– Curcumin: Tumeric is a plant but best known in America as a spice in curry powder.  Curcumin is a substance in turmeric and has been linked to reducing inflammation, pain and depression.

But of course, selecting particular diets or foods  is just one important way to keep yourself feeling healthy mentally and physically. It’s all part of adopting a healthy lifestyle. Here are few other things to try.

Ways to improve your mood

– Make sure to eat regular, balanced meals.  By eating on a regular basis, you’re providing adequate nutrients to help nourish your body.  When we skip meals, we’re not setting ourselves up for physical or mental success.

– Including all foods: balance and moderation are key here…but when we eliminate whole food groups (like carbs for example), we’re also eliminating the benefits we could receive from those food groups.

– Frequent exercise: we’ve all heard of ‘endorphins’ right?  These are chemicals our bodies release when we exercise.  Regular exercise has been used not only to treat and manage depression and anxiety but also to help manage our pain levels. The benefits of exercise are endless—so go enjoy that “runner’s high!”

– Medication: often prescribed, medications are an integral part of managing mood disorders.  When taken as recommended, medication can positively impact your mental health.

While evidence is still needed to increase our understanding of exactly how food impacts our moods, it’s very clear that we CAN positively affect our moods through food.  So go ahead—get outside a bit, make some salmon encrusted with flax seeds, add chia seeds to your smoothie, enjoy veggie salads and incorporate curries into your meal rotation.  The ways you can help promote overall health (that’s physical AND mental health) may very well lie on your plate (or in your fridge or pantry!)

— Lindsey DeCaro, RDN, LDN

Smart Lifebites