Mental health issues affect around 1 in 4 of us and, according to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Mood may be influenced by many factors including genetics, sleep, stress, inflammation and nutrition.
We always take an evidence-based approach and aim to provide you with actionable knowledge and tips to help you on your journey to optimal health.
In this article we take a closer look at nutrition, as the types of food you eat can significantly affect how the brain and specific mood supporting neurotransmitters work.
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) all work to balance mood, motivation, alertness, pleasure and calm.
As nutrition is so important for mental health, ensuring that you have the correct nutrient balance is vital.
Here we list the top 10 nutrients for good mood:
The omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids - this means that they are not made within the body and good dietary intake is needed.
They can be found in oily fish such as trout, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon.
Some nuts like walnuts and seeds like chia seeds, flax and hemp seeds also have a type of omega-3 that can be converted in the body to the same type that are found in oily fish.
An optimal level of oily fish is around 2-3 portions a week and you can include chia and flax seeds in your diet daily.
Supplemental omega-3 from high quality fish oil may also be beneficial.
Chia seeds and flax seeds also contribute to tryptophan intake.
Tryptophan is used by the body to make the mood neurotransmitter serotonin and low levels of tryptophan can lead to an increase in the symptoms of depression (6).
Eating a carbohydrate alongside a tryptophan rich protein source may increase tryptophan availability for the brain - this is down to the effects of insulin.
Carbohydrates cause a rise in insulin which diverts other amino acids and leaves more tryptophan available to cross the blood brain barrier (7).
As well as being important for healthy blood, iron also play a role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, and is a co-factor for many enzymes within the nervous system.
Low iron levels have been linked to low mood, even without the presence of anaemia (8).
Iron rich foods include animal proteins, eggs and also spinach, dried apricots, beans, quinoa and pumpkin seeds.
Iron absorption can be enhanced with the presence of vitamin C.
Combining broccoli or peppers with beans or spinach can maximise iron absorption.
Another essential co-factor for the production of neurotransmitters, vitamin B6 is required for tryptophan to serotonin conversion.
Salmon, organic grass fed beef and chicken and tofu are the best sources of vitamin B6 but chickpeas, sweet potato, banana, potato and avocado all contain good levels.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin B6 is around 1.3mg for an adult, although some people may require more.
One medium banana can provide almost a third of the daily B6 intake.
Zinc is a trace mineral that is involved in the function of over 300 enzymes.
High concentrations of zinc may be found in the brain and much like iron and vitamin B6, it serves as a co-factor for the correct production of mood neurotransmitters.
Low zinc status can be seen in clinical depression and restoring levels shown improvements in mood (11).
Foods high in zinc include meat and shellfish and oysters can contain around 3 times the recommended daily intake of zinc.
Pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, cashews, spinach and lentils are also good choices.
In recent years the spotlight on vitamin D has shown that it performs several functions within the body.
The link between low light levels during winter and the incidence of a seasonal type of depression, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is partly thought to be down to a lack of vitamin D synthesis.
Vitamin D helps to regulate serotonin and dopamine (12) and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
As depression has a link with inflammation, additional vitamin D may help to curb inflammation and reduce symptoms (13).
Dietary sources such as salmon and egg yolk may contain small amounts of vitamin D, but the best source is skin exposure to sunlight.
Ideally, the skin should be exposed for 20 minutes each day.
Supplementation may be necessary in winter or for people with dark skin.
Both of these nutrients are essential for a process in the body which is responsible for the healthy production and breakdown of neurotransmitters and a deficiency of one, or both, of these nutrients is implicated in cases of depression (14).
Folate is found in abundance in dark green leafy vegetables - aim for a good daily intake of vegetables like asparagus, spinach, broccoli, avocado, kale and romaine lettuce.
Folate is water-soluble and a short cooking time, such as in steaming, can preserve the folate content.
Chromium is a mineral that plays a large role in blood sugar balance.
It is part of a molecule called glucose tolerance factor (GTF) that assists with insulin functioning.
Egg yolk, brewer’s yeast, organic grass fed beef, shellfish, broccoli, sweet potato, grape juice and garlic are all good sources of chromium.
The spice turmeric adds fantastic flavour to foods but also has therapeutic benefits, due to the presence of curcumin.
This has been shown in studies to have potent anti-inflammatory properties and to be of use in alleviating depression (16).
Curcumin aids in serotonin and dopamine actions, prevents tryptophan from being sent down the wrong pathways and keeps inflammation low (17).
Curcumin rich turmeric can be added to curries, makes a great marinade for roasted cauliflower and can be mixed with milk to make Golden milk.
Mixing turmeric with fat like coconut oil or eating it with black pepper enhances the absorption of curcumin.
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in apples, onions, raw cranberries, blueberries, buckwheat, tea and red wine and has potent anti-inflammatory actions.
The increase in serotonin availability may influence mood positively.
Although it is early days in terms of research, evidence from animal studies is showing that quercetin may reduce depression and positively influence the stress response.
Stress is a well-known factor involved in mood disorders.
Maintaining a healthy nutritional intake and including specific foods can maximse your intake of essential good mood nutrients.
Getting the nutrient balance right can significantly improve mood and motivation.
A personalised consultation with a 360o practitioner can assist you in assessing any nutritional imbalances and also investigate other factors that may be playing a role in mood.
It is good to talk about mental health and we would love to hear about your own experiences with food and nutrients that support mood.
Which are your favourites?
What do you find the most supportive?
Feel free to share any good recipes with us.
Written by: Kelly Rose DipION FdSc VN
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