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Food and Mood

We often associate what we eat with our emotions and mood but has a connection been found between what we eat and the influence this has on our mental health? Can changing our diets then improve our mental wellbeing?

 

The scientific research proves to be inconclusive, however, there appears to be a link in most studies that shows some connection between food and depression. In most cases, it is not understood whether a deficiency in some nutrients contributes to mental health issues or are in fact a result of these issues. Previous large-scale studies found a link between diets high in sugar, red meat and refined grains and incidence of depression. Another study also suggested that women who took in more Vitamin D had a lower risk of depression than those with lower amounts of vitamin D in their diets.

 

Some researchers believe that there is a link between serotonin levels and depression.

Lower blood levels of serotonin appear to be found in those with depression, however, there is no way of measuring serotonin levels in the brain. Therefore, we are unable to conclude whether low levels of serotonin exist in the brains of those with depression and other mental health issues. As serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan, it may be helpful to include tryptophan-rich foods in our diets to try and increase serotonin levels indirectly.

Tryptophan is found in most protein-rich foods like chicken, eggs, meat, nuts and dairy. However, only a very small amount of tryptophan will get through to the brain after eating a protein-rich meal. This is because amino acids compete with one another for absorption. Slow-releasing carbohydrates like whole grains trigger a release of insulin which removes all amino acids from the blood – except tryptophan – allowing it to enter the brain more freely. Taking in enough vitamin B rich food, particularly B6, may also be helpful as this nutrient helps convert tryptophan to serotonin. B6 is found in high levels in fortified cereals, meat and whole grains as well as a variety of vegetables and fruits.

 

It may be helpful to include magnesium-rich foods as part of a balanced diet. Rice, buckwheat, bran, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts and dark green leafy vegetables are examples of foods high in magnesium. Studies have found this important mineral acts as a natural relaxant and low levels of magnesium have been linked with low mood and depression.

While there may be no conclusive evidence proving a link between diet and mood, eating well as part of a healthy lifestyle may help to reduce the risk of developing a wider range of health issues which may in turn contribute to poor mental wellbeing. Eating a varied and balanced diet is key to ensuring we take in a variety of nutrients – all of which perform their own unique and essential functions in the body.

 

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