Millions of people experience periods of depression. Millions also have a chemical imbalance, due to mental illness, that creates difficulty regulating moods. Although research clearly supports the effectiveness of medications to treat depression and other mood disorders many individuals choose to refrain from pharmaceutical treatment due to side-effects and costs of psychotropic medications.
There is new research to suggest that quality of food is related to mood. Researchers are looking at how particular foods will either improve mood or contribute to depression, anxiety, stress, anger, and psychosis. For example a study looked at mood and food consumption and found that women with high fat diets had increased levels of depression and women with increased starch in their daily diets had increased anger (Pepino, Finkbeiner, & Mennella, 2009). Diet and mood are closely related due to evidence that suggests that diet, regardless of healthy or less healthy, changes the brain.
The food consumed contains chemicals, vitamins, substances, and nutrients the body needs to function. The importance of food on brain functioning became more clear as researchers found a connection between the “gut” and the brain. The gut/brain connection is important to understand how food impacts mood. Specifically the stomach, intestines, and the brain share the same tissue and nerves, and the nerves in the gut transmits chemicals directly to the brain (Mayer, 2011). If chemicals in the gut, where food begins the metabolic process, are stable then chemicals in the brain will remain stable. However as the chemicals in the gut become unregulated due to food consumption and metabolism then the chemicals in the brain will also become unrelated. For example once food in consumed the body starts to metabolize food in the cells and this signals a growth hormone in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (Gomez-Pinnilla, & Nguyen, 2012). This chemical is responsible for growing new brain neurons and helps keep the brain healthy and functioning well. BDNF is needed for memory, energy, and learning (Gomez-Pinnilla, & Nguyen, 2012). BDNF levels are also related to mood and researchers found that decreased BDNF was associated with a depressed mood. Due to this connection of brain chemicals in the gut researchers looked at how foods impacted the regulation of brain chemicals. Specifically researchers found that increased sugar intake was related to suppressed BDNF levels (Sharma & Fulton, 2013). Clearly the type of foods consumed, the amount of food consumed, and the quality of food consumed is important not only for physical health but for mental and emotional health.
Sugar is not the only food that is associated with dysregulated moods. Specifically diets high in fat are related to decreased hippocampus functioning and this will decrease how the brain works, thinks, and responds. Individuals with difficulty thinking, focusing, and recalling memories may have diets higher in fat. Additionally research indicated that diets high in calories were related to increases in a chemical, reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS is a harmful chemical that destroys cells and increased ROS is related to increased psychiatric disease (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012; Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012). However the foods consumed can reverse this damage as well as improve brain functioning. Specifically foods that contain antioxidants will protect the brain from ROS (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).
It is easy to read this information and think that elimination of certain foods will help improve brain functioning and mood. Eliminating foods can only further cause brain deterioration and mood problems. For example there is often fear that consuming carbs will increase weight gain. Carbs contain sugar and therefore many eliminate carbs from the diet due to fear of weight gain, and now in an attempt to improve mood. Although increased sugar intake will increase inflammation, decrease immunity, and decrease the brains ability to process insulin and leptin (chemicals needed for energy), carbs are necessary for the brain to function properly (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012). Specifically carbs contain tryptophan, an amino acid, and increased tryptophan is associated with increased serotonin. Increased serotonin levels will improve depression. The message communicated by this research is that the quality of food consumed will impact mood.
The following is a list of foods that are associated with improving mood.
- Carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain tryptophan that will improve mood by increasing serotonin levels (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).
- Omega-3 fatty acids are foods like fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Omega-3 is associated with decreased depression. Adding omega-3 is important to mental health. Research suggested that decreased levels of omega-3 was associated with decreased brain size and increased suicidal ideation (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012; Lin, Mischoulon, Freeman, Matsuoka, Hibbein, Belmaker, & Su, 2012). If fish is not regularly consumed an individual could benefit from adding an omega-3 daily supplement.
- Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants to protect against ROS as well as contain chemicals, called polyphenols, that promote brain growth and health (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012). Fruits like plums, apples, and cherries also contain chlorogenic acid, which is associated with decreased anxiety (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012). Blueberries and blackberries are high in antioxidants and are associated with improved dopamine levels. Dopamine is associated with improved coordination, memory, thinking, and mood (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).
- Green tea contains epigallocat echin gallate, EGCG, which is responsible for improving cognitive functioning, improved focus, improved concentration, improved thinking, and improved mood (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).
- Turmeric, a common spice that contains curcumin, has many health benefits, including improved mood. Specifically curcumin increased serotonin and dopamine in the brain and this was associated with decreased depression and decreased stress (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).
- Foods like turkey and chicken contain protein sources that are important to control mood due to the ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Increased blood sugar is related to irritability, depression, and anger (Sharma & Fulton, 2013). Therefore lean proteins will promote weight loss and regulate blood sugars to control mood.
A diet high in fat, high in sugar, high in processed foods, and high in carbs may contribute to difficulty regulating mood. Eating well one meal may cause a temporary change in mood, thinking, and energy, however, in order to maintain a positive mood it is recommended that healthy and whole foods be consumed daily with every meal.
For more information please see the following article: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/02/food-affects-mood.aspx
Davidson, K., & Kaplan, B. (2012). Food intake and blood cholesterol levels of community-based adults with mood disorders. BMC Psychiatry, 12, ArtID10.
Gomez-Pinilla, F., & Nguyen, T. (2012). Natural mood foods: The actions of polyphenols against psychiatric and cognitive disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 15(3), 127-133.
Lin, P.Y., Mischoulong, D., Freeman, M.P., Matsuoka, Y., Hibbein, J., Belmaker, R.H., & Su, K.P. (2012). Are omega-3 fatty acids antidepressants or just mood-improving agents? The effect depends upon diagnosis, supplement preparation, and severity of depression. Molecular Psychiatry, 17(12), 1161-1163.
Mayer, E. (2011). Gut feelings: The emerging biology of gut-brain communication. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12(8), 453-466.
Pepino, M., Finkbeiner, S., & Mennella, J. (2009). Similarities in food cravings and mood states between obese women and women who smoke tobacco. Obesity, 17(6), 1158-1163.
Sharma, S. & Fulton, S. (2013). Diet-induced obesity promotes depressive-like behavior that is associated with neural adaptations in brain reward circuitry. International Journal of Obesity, 37(3), 382-389.