There is a direct link between mood and blood sugar balance. All carbohydrate foods are broken down into glucose and your brain runs on glucose. The more uneven your blood sugar supply, the more uneven your mood. Sugar has been implicated in aggressive behaviour, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Lots of refined carbohydrates are linked with depression because these foods not only supply very little in the way of nutrients but also use up mood-enhancing B vitamins.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and nicotine, will throw your brain chemistry awry. Alcohol in particular acts as a depressant. Food sensitivities will also impact brain chemistry. The brain communicates via chemical neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and GABA). A deficiency or imbalance is likely to have a negative effect on your moods, thoughts, and behaviors.
These neurotransmitters are made from the food we eat. For example, serotonin is made from tryptophan, which is found in chicken, eggs, bananas, dairy, and dates. Dopamine (the brain’s amphetamine) is made from phenylalanine, which is found in grains, eggs, meat, almonds, and soybeans. GABA (the brain’s natural Valium) is made from glutamine and is found in meat and cabbage. A diet that does not take in varied or adequate amounts of these foods will not promote optimal brain functioning in relation to stabilizing mood.
The majority of the brain is made of fat and requires essential fatty acids (EFAs) from your diet to maintain optimal functioning. EFAs help improve mood as they are the main constituent of the neuroreceptors that receive the messages delivered by the neurotransmitters
Nutrition Action Plan
Make sure you eat protein from beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, and meat, which are all high in tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin.
If your motivation is low, ensure you get the amino acids you need from pulses, wheatgerm, yogurt, poultry, almonds, sunflower, and sesame seeds.
Test your homocysteine levels (doctor or home test). If your level is above 9mmol/l you may want to consider taking a combined homocysteine supplement of B2, B6, B12, folic acid, zinc, and TMG (trimethylglycine). Speak to your doctor or health practitioner first. Ensuring homocysteine stays low means that your brain will methylate well, keeping its chemistry ticking over and in balance. The ideal level is below 6 and the average level is 10. The risk of depression doubles with levels above 15. Also, eat whole foods rich in B vitamins: whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Folic acid is particularly abundant in green vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Ensure you are getting enough omega-3s through food and supplementation. Eat a serving of either sardines, mackerel, herring, or wild/organic salmon, three times a week. Very little of the omega-3 fats in flax, pumpkin seeds or walnuts convert into EPA – one of the ‘brain fats’ – so, while these are good to eat, they don’t have the same anti-depressant effect.
Keep your fuel supply stable. Eat a diet that will stabilise your blood sugar.
In addition to essential fatty acid deficiencies, depression has been linked to B vitamin, magnesium, and zinc deficiencies. See above for foods rich in B vitamins. Zinc-rich foods are fish, crab, oysters, dark meat on poultry, nuts, seeds, and pulses. Magnesium is found in oat bran, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
Dehydration will cause headaches and sufficient water is essential for mood health, so drink plenty of water.
Reduce alcohol intake. After the initial sugar rush has subsided, it acts as a depressant. It also depletes the body of EFAs and B vitamins (crucial for neurotransmitter production).
• WARNING: If you are taking prescription anti-depressants, do not take supplements without your doctor’s advice. Do not wean yourself off prescription anti-depressants without the guidance of your doctor. Always seek personal advice from your health practitioner before supplementing any nutrients, including chromium.
Daily good mood food checklist
Eat at least 5 servings of veg and no more than 2 servings of fruit.
Eat a handful of mixed nuts.
Eat 1 spoonful of mixed seeds.
Include whole grains in your meals – brown rice, whole oats, quinoa, barley, rye, etc.
Drink 2 liters of pure, filtered water.
These guidelines contain generalised supplementation information that is publicly available and supplements can be purchased at natural health stores. It is your responsibility to discuss any supplementation with your health professional or doctor, particularly if you are on medication.