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Archive for September 19th, 2010

The Food and Mood Connection

Can food make a difference in mood or help fight depression? In a British study, those who ate whole foods compared to those who consumed fried foods, desserts, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products were less likely to feel depressed. Some researchers believe certain nutrients and foods can lift spirits out of the doldrums.  Most likely, effects of the whole-food diet resulted from foods high in antioxidants and other nutrients known to affect depression.      

  • Antioxidants. Antioxidants defend the body against various attacks and neutralize the effect of free radicals, those unstable substances within cells that can cause cell damage, disease progression, and aging. Antioxidants have been associated with lower risks of depression. Nutrients with antioxidant properties include 1) vitamin C, abundant in citrus, strawberries, cantaloupe, and other fruits and cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower), 2) vitamin E, most plentiful in vegetable oils, seeds, and nuts, and 3) beta-carotene, found in dark green and deep yellow fruits and vegetables.  
  • Omega-3-fatty acids. The American Psychiatric Association recommends fish high in omega-3 fatty acids to combat depression. Foods high in these fatty acids include salmon, sardine, and mackerel.
  • Folate. A deficiency of folate or folic acid has been linked to depression. This B-vitamin impacts serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with moods and mental status. Dark green vegetables provide rich sources of folate.
  • Carbohydrates. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that people placed on low-carbohydrate diets for a year had more depression, anxiety, and anger than those put on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that included grains, fruits, and beans. Researchers believed the higher carbohydrate diet increased production of serotonin and improved mood.
  • Protein.  When each daily meal includes protein, blood levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that eventually turns to serotonin, increase.  

While specific nutrients impact mood, so do certain foods. Researchers tell us what women already knew. As little as 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate reduces stress hormones. This small amount, however, has 235 calories that may cause stress for the weight conscious.  Some scientists refute the antidepressant properties of chocolate. While chocolate may or may not help depression, most can attest to the improved mood while enjoying the smooth, velvety decadence of dark chocolate.

 Source: Ana Mantica, “Mood Boosting Foods,” EatingWell. March/April 2010.

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