Updated: Apr 29, 2019
The sun is starting to shine and yet your mood is not shining?
Maybe tweaking your diet could give that little lift your mood needs.
Before I dive into details on what could help our mood nutrition-wise, I want to flag up that if you think you suffer from anxiety, mood disorder, depression or any other mental health issues, it is important to get support from the right health care professional and your GP should be your first port of call.
However, if you are looking at what you can do on your own to help enhance your mood, reviewing your diet is a good place to start as a balanced diet is one important piece of the complex jigsaw that is our overall mental health.
(check my infographic at the end of the article)
Yes food can help. But first of all, let’s look at the big picture, though and before looking at what food to include, let’s make sure you tick the follow 3 boxes:
How are you doing? Have you left one of the boxes untick? If so, it might be worth investigating a bit more there as well.
And now, let’s look at what nutrients and foods could help to lift your mood up and why:
Properties & mechanism at play: It reduces symptoms of depression, especially in cases of sever depression and when used in complement to antidepressant medication.
Good sources: Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout; White fish and seafood such as sea bass, cod, mussels.
For plant-based sources go for nuts & seeds such as walnuts, linseed, chia seeds and rapeseed oil (but reduce high-sugar, sat fat, alcohol and caffeine which can limit its absorption).
Amount & recommendations: Aim for 2 portions of fish a week, including 1 oily fish.
Or 1tbsp of chia seeds or ground linseeds, or six walnut halves, daily.
Properties & mechanism at play: The gut microbiome has been linked to mood and mental health.
When feeding on dietary fibre, our beneficial gut bacteria release SCFAs (short chain fatty acids), small molecules that can then be absorbed in our colon. These SCFA have anti-inflammatory properties helping the digestion and our immune function, but not only. It possibly influences our mood too.
Good sources: Found in plant-based food such as wholegrains (oats, barley, wheat, rye, brown rice, etc.); fruit & veg (keep the skin on when possible); nuts & seeds; pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
Amount & recommendations: Ideally we would all get at least 30g/day of dietary fibre.
But if you don’t have much fibre in our diet, introduce it progressively as it can cause some gut discomfort at first (a lot of fermentation will be going on!). And increase the amount of fluid you drink as its ‘digestion’ requires lots of water.
Properties & mechanism at play: A mineral that is believed to help keep mood stable.
Good sources: Found meat, eggs, fish and seafood; For plant-based source, go for brazil nuts, wholegrain.
Amount & recommendations: Aim for 50-80mcg/day. But don’t over do it. There is such a thing as too much selenium (selenosis: hair loss, damage skin and nails). And be careful with supplements.
Properties & mechanism at play: Low levels of this mineral have been associated with anxiety and depression.
Good sources: Found in leafy green veg, wholegrain, legumes, nuts and seeds such as cashew, brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, avocado, bananas, as well as in meat and dairy product.
Amount & recommendations: Aim for ~300mg/day.
Properties & mechanism at play: A vitamin that helps keep mood stable, especially for women and when sued in complement to antidepressant medication.
Good sources: Found in legumes (e.g. kidney beans, lentils), brown rice, leafy green veg, beetroots, peas, broccoli, bananas, citrus fruit, wheat product (pasta, flour, etc. as fortified)
Properties & mechanism at play: Vitamin D contributes to the production of serotonin, the “happy” chemical (a neurotransmitter which affect our mood).
Low levels of vitamin D have been observed in people with depression.
Good sources: Unfortunately it is hard to getting a good amount of Vitamin D from food. Small amounts are available in oily fish, egg yolk, some mushrooms. But the main the source is the sun which enables our body to synthesis (produce) our vitamin D.
Amount & recommendations: From October to April: use supplement (400 IU/day); April to September: expose your arms to the sun for min 15mins a day (or carry on with the supplement)
Properties & mechanism at play: An amino acid that helps with production of serotonin
Good sources: Found in protein rich food such as poultry, meat, seafood, dairy products, but also nuts & seeds, beans, bananas, dark chocolate
Here is a little visual recap of what to look at when your mood is going down: