Feeling low at times is a fact of life, but there are simple, natural things you can change in your diet and lifestyle to help you get back on track so you can make the most of every day.
Low moods generally hit us when we least expect them; often we struggle to find the cause. You may have your own little tricks to boost yourself back into a good mood, maybe dancing to your favourite tune or enjoying a piece of chocolate will help you feel better but sometimes you may need a little more help.
There’s no magic pill to lift your mood but there are some things that may improve how you feel. All of the B group vitamins affect brain function, mental sharpness and mood. Research shows that folate, vitamin B6 and B12 are particularly helpful.
The B-vitamin folate, also known as folic acid or vitamin B9, is regularly mentioned in research in to mood and nutrition. Researchers are studying the link between low folate levels in the blood and depression, due in part to folate’s direct effect on the levels of the amino acid methionine. Methionine works with ATP (a compound that is involved in the transfer of energy in the body) to form a chemical that has an antidepressant action on the brain. You will find more info on interesting research papers here and
Tip: Boost your folate levels by eating plenty of spinach, peas, broccoli, cabbage, avocados, kidney beans, nuts and seeds. Your body can only store small amounts of folate, which is why it’s important to eat folate rich foods every day, as part of a balanced diet.
B6 is needed to synthesize the brain’s neurotransmitters, including serotonin (the feel good hormone). These chemicals are vital for happiness. Typical symptoms of lack of vitamin B6 are depression, irritability, nervousness, insomnia and more. Here is some more info on this vital vitamin.
Tip: Good sources of vitamin B6 include: Vegemite, walnuts, bananas, lamb’s liver, egg yolks and potatoes.
Vitamin B12 boosts brain health and helps form the fatty covering around nerve cells, called the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath must remain intact for the nerves to work properly. Low levels of B12 will lead to damage of this sheath with the result that nerve impulses won’t be sent properly, so we can’t think as well as we should. A lack of this vitamin can present similar signs to Alzheimer’s disease in senior citizens, which can be reversed with supplementation. There are many signs and symptoms of a lack of this vitamin. Here is more info.
Tip: Only animal products contain vitamin B12. The following foods are good sources of this vitamin: lamb’s liver, sardines, oysters, egg yolks and fish.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The brain is a lipid-rich organ and contains a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Whilst a normal diet including oils (e.g. Olive oil) has sufficient omega-6 for normal brain function, it is not unusual for our omega-3 levels to be low. Researchers are looking at the link between a good intake of omega-3 fats and a lower incidence of depression and suggest increasing omega-3 may be beneficial for our mental health.
Tip: Good omega-3 sources include marine algae, linseed, chia seeds, soybeans, walnuts and oily fish (such as salmon and tuna).
It can be difficult to find the time to be active, but the benefits of exercise include helping you to think more clearly, feeling less tired and lifting your mood. People feel great after a good workout due to the natural endorphins (feel-good hormones) that are released when we exercise. And another positive side effect is that exercise takes your mind off negative thoughts.
Tip: Go for a walk – even 10 minutes can make a big difference. Make exercise a regular priority in your diary. Here is some more info if you would like some tips on how to stick to exercise.
Mood Stressors to Avoid
Be aware of dietary factors that can affect your mood adversely. Foods that contain high levels of refined sugar, caffeine or alcohol can negatively affect your mood. These foods may initially stimulate the body but eventually leave people feeling depleted and more stressed, because they essentially make the body leach vitamins and minerals and provide no positive nutrition.
Tip: Instead of reaching for sweet treats, try a handful of dried fruit or nuts and seeds. And limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
As you can see, including the right foods in your diet and making regular activity a part of your life can improve your mood. It all comes down to a healthy functioning brain – a healthy cognitive system is essential to regulating mood, and certain nutrients have a profound impact on maintaining normal brain function.
To date researchers have identified nine nutrients that can combat such illnesses as depression and boost your mood. They are the nutrients mentioned above plus calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, vitamin D and zinc. Here is some more info on all these nutrients and foods that contain them.
Be well, Stay well!
– Mindfood magazine issue April 2014