Today, we are experiencing more stress than ever. From the global perspective to an individual one, many people are finding themselves struggling with difficult emotions and low moods. In response to political tensions, social injustices, and the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are experiencing increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. While we can't necessarily control what happens on a global or societal scale, we can take action on an individual level to help improve our mood and make us less vulnerable to negative emotions, such as depression, stress, and anxiety. Our diet can play a large part in our mood and mental health.
Food and Mood: What Research Says
Research is emerging that supports a connection between diet and mood. It is important to recognize that food hasn't been proven to cause depression or other mood disorders. However, research is constantly exploring the many factors that contribute to mental health and mood disorders and diet happens to be one of the many variables that can impact your mood and mental health.
A 2014 study found a connection between a diet high in sugar and fat (red meat, sugary drinks, and refined grains) and depression. Another study conducted in 2018 connected a diet high in meat consumption with depression. On the other hand, studies have shown a link between the Mediterranean diet and lower levels of depression as well as lowered blood pressure, and reduced incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular issues as well as improved cognitive function.
What Foods to Eat
What makes the Mediterranean diet so effective is the fact that it is low in sugar and unhealthy fats and high in nutrients. Dieticians recommend specific nutrients to help improve your mood and mental health and these include:
Magnesium can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Foods rich in magnesium include whole grains and nuts.
Polyphenols are powerful plant antioxidants that, when consumed in moderation, can help improve mood. Beverages such as tea, coffee, and wine contain polyphenols.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that our body doesn't naturally produce on its own. Therefore, we need to intentionally ingest it in order to receive the benefits of this amino acid. Tryptophan is essential for the production of serotonin in our brains. You may already know that serotonin plays a key role in our brain functioning with respect to impulsivity, emotions, and sleep hygiene. Foods high in tryptophan include milk, eggs, spinach, and salmon.
Phytonutrients act as a protectant for your brain. In fact, it is believed that phytonutrients protect the brain from stress. Foods such as fruit and even dark chocolate contain phytonutrients that act as armor for your brain and can help with stress levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation in the body, and studies show a connection between inflammation and depression. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout.
Along with the five nutrients mentioned above, a 2018 study found other nutrients also help prevent and manage depressive symptoms, including:
- B-complex vitamins
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
These nutrients, along with the five mentioned above, are referred to as antidepressant foods. Consider incorporating them into your diet regularly to help reduce and manage your depressive symptoms.
Foods to put on your grocery list that contain one or more of these nutrients include:
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula)
- Fish (salmon, tuna, or trout)
- High-fiber foods (almonds, oats, quinoa, chickpeas)
- Leafy greens
- Lean meats
- Whole grains
Eating with the intention of improving your mood has never been easier. Technology has made it super simple to stay informed and to identify foods that align with your health and wellness goals. The Grocery Guidance feature on the ScriptSave Wellrx website and app helps you identify appropriate foods that align with your health goals and includes nutritional information on each food you identify. Staying on top of your diet has never been easier or more accessible than now.
It's important to note that changing your diet may not be enough to help improve your mood. Your diet is only one piece of a bigger picture. Changing your diet and being intentional with what food you put in your body is a great place to start though. Consider additional interventions if you are struggling with low moods, such as seeing a mental health professional or talking to your doctor about medications that might help.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.