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Diet and Your Mood

An article in the January 2010 issue of the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Newsletter (, FOOD AND YOUR MOOD, contains fascinating information about how what we eat affects our emotions. Most likely, those people who have depression or anxiety problems and turn to food, had mood difficulties before their food issues. But, the fact is, we can also depress or elevate our mood, not only with exercise, but with what we choose to eat.

For instance, the article states that “foods high in protein tend to make you more alert and carbohydrates can relax you—hence the term “comfort food.” This is important information: carbs do change your mood and that’s why you choose them. You’re not undisciplined or lacking in self-control. You simply want to feel better. No crime in that. Of course, there are more effective and less deleterious ways to feel better, but the point is that being drawn to carbs when you’re upset makes physiological sense.

The article describes the results of a University of Navarra, Spain study involving 10,000-plus healthy, depression-free Spaniards. Participants reported dietary intake on a questionnaire and scores were assessed on consumption of fats (saturated and unsaturated), fruits, veggies, dairy products, meat, fish and cereals and alcohol intake. Lower values were assigned to healthier foods and higher values to unhealthy ones. Want to guess the results? Those who had high scores developed more depression.

The food mood connection? It’s mostly about serotonin. Monounsaturated fats seem to enhance how serotonin (a major neurotransmitter and mood-regulator which modulates intense emotions and may help you sleep better) binds to brain receptors, keeping more of it in your system. This is exactly how some anti-depressants work. Vitamin B6 and folate, found in vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts all contain nutrients which convert tryptophan into serotonin. One other finding from another study mentioned in the article: Omega-3s in fatty fish and fish-oil “were found to significantly boost the effects of antidepressant medication among patients who were otherwise healthy.” Makes sense, as Omega-3s “play a key role in the workings of neurons in the brain.”

Okay, enough science. My point is that although you can’t help having a biological depression, you can impact your mood by what you eat—or don’t eat. If you’re depression prone, make sure you’re eating foods with folate, Omega-3s and B vitamins (or take them in supplement form) to help keep you out of the doldrums.