Eating a diet that is healthy and varied is no doubt the best way to help you boost your mood through food. To help achieve a healthy diet, make sure you include foods from the following groups:
Eating carbohydrate foods with a lower Glycaemic Index (GI) means that the energy provided by these foods will be released slowly stabilising blood sugar levels, helping you feel good for longer and will prevent the peaks and troughs of rising and falling energy levels which may play havoc with your mood.
Carbohydrates = Glucose – not having enough glucose makes you feel weak and tired.
Healthy foods that fall into this category include:
- Wholemeal breads
- Boiled potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
- Pasta (wholegrain)
- Brown rice
- Wholegrain cereals
As well as an additional source of energy, protein foods provide nutrients such as iron (especially red meat), B vitamins (needed for nerve function), zinc and magnesium, and of course the essential amino acids including Tryptophan.
Included in this group are:
- Lean cuts of meat
- Dairy products such as cottage cheese, cheese, milk
Alternatively go for:
- Nuts eg. walnuts and brazil nuts (which are a good source of selenium)
- Beans eg. kidney beans and pulses such as lentils and humous
Essential fatty acids are so called because they cannot be synthesised by the body and so must be provided by the diet. These fats can be divided into 2 categories: Omega-6 fatty acids found predominantly in nuts and seeds eg. pumpkin and sunflower; and Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish.
Deficiencies in the highly unsaturated fatty acids appear to play a role in a wide spectrum of conditions and studies have shown a link between increased levels of depression with low intakes of the Omega-3 fatty acids.
Sources of Omega-3 (EPA) include sardines, mackerel and salmon. You should try to aim to include this type of fish in your diet twice a week. Alpha-linolenic acid is a plant derived Omega-3 fatty acid and is found in linseed, rapeseed and soybean oils, and nuts in particularl walnuts. This oil can be converted to EPA in the body so it may be useful as a vegetarian source of EPA. It is important to note though, that studies have shown a poor conversion rate and so the benefits will not be as effective as eating oily fish.
Vitamins and Minerals
Psychological stress which can lead to or worsen already established depression has been linked to deficiencies in iron, selenium, magnesium, vitamins of the B-complex, folate and zinc.
Sources of these foods include:
- Zinc: wholegrains, legumes (peas, lentils, beans), meat and milk
- Magnesium: dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and wholegrains
- Iron: red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, eggs and some fruit eg dried apricots
- Folate: dark green leafy vegetables and fortified cereal
- B vitamins: wholegrains, yeast and dairy products
- Selenium: brazil nuts, liver, kidney and shellfish especially crab
The antioxidants (vitamins A, C & E) should form part of any healthy and balanced diet. Sources of these nutrients include:
- Vitamin A: liver, milk, cheese and oily fish
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits eg grapefruit/oranges/kiwi and berry fruits
- Vitamin E: primarily vegetable oils, meat and veg, fruit, nuts and cereals
Water plays a vital role in all bodily functions . About 60% of our body is made up of water and a turnover of around 2-4 litres of water per day for the average individual is usual.
Keeping the body hydrated is critical as even mild hydration may have significant effects on alertness, concentration levels, judgment skills and possibly depression. It is difficult to recommend the exact amount of water that should be drunk daily because individual requirements vary greatly depending on factors such as body size, physical activity levels and environmental conditions. A guideline of 6-8 glasses of water which is equivalent to around 1.5 litres of water per day for the average person is recommended by many health professionals.
Water is undoubtedly the best way to hydrate the body; not only is it free from artificial additives such as sweeteners, but it is free (if drunk from the tap) and readily available. But it can be difficult to consume high quantities so soft drinks, low alcoholic beverages and fruit/herbal teas can contribute to your daily water total. Tea and coffee drank in small quantities are ok but It is important to note that too much coffee, tea, alcohol and sugary drinks can result in making you more dehydrated.
Submitted by Netmums Nutritionist Iwona Davies BSc (Hons) ANutr.
Summary: a quick guide to good and bad foods
Good: water, fruit, vegetables, oily fish, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, wholegrain bread and oats
Bad: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, white bread and white rice, saturated animal fats, processed foods, deep fried food, some additives
Recipe ideas to boost your mood
- Nutty Cereal
- Salmon Steaks
- Noodles & Peas
- Sardine Mash
- Turkey Stir Fry
- Lentil Supper
- Roasted Veg
- Fresh fruit salad
- Fruit kebabs
Find out more
The Mental Health Foundation have a useful website called Feeding Minds. You can find out which foods to eat to help with specific mental conditions such as depression, insomnia, stress and irritability.