We know a healthy diet supports a healthy body, and the same goes for our mental health. When we treat ourselves to an extra piece of cake, we don’t often consider the cognitive effects. However, the food we eat can play an important role in boosting our mood and emotional well-being.
According to the Mayo Clinic, several studies have found that people who have a poor quality diet – one that’s high in processed meat, sweets, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products – were more likely to report symptoms of depression, while those who ate mostly fruits, vegetables and fish were less likely to report being depressed.
“Dietary intake can trigger chemical and physiological changes within the brain that later can affect our behavior and emotions,” says Valerie Dandridge, an outpatient dietitian with Saint Francis Hospital. “Eating consistently during the day without skipping meals, including an adequate amount of carbohydrate-containing foods, and a balanced diet containing omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, can affect how we feel.”
She points out that eating too much or too little of a macronutrient can adversely affect our mental and physical states.
“Too little carbs, for example, can cause us to have a shortage on production of serotonin,” she says. “Eating too much fat in a greasy meal can make us feel a bit sluggish because it takes more work to digest such a meal.”
Dandridge says she agrees that food can be another tool in fighting stress and depression.
“Diet has been known to help ‘fight the blues’ in regard to tryptophan, adequate carbs, omega 3s and a consistent intake of nutrition throughout the day to keep blood sugars stable, which keeps the amount of fuel to the brain stable,” she says.
While more research is needed, the Mayo Clinic reports that some studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in the treatment of mild to moderate depression and a folate deficiency has been linked to depression. However, experts recommend individuals visit their doctors before seeking new treatment plans.
Consider adding more of the following foods to your diet to help improve your mood: