Eat yourself happy: Nutritionists reveal the feel-good foods that can combat depression including egg yolks and dark chocolate (and what to avoid if you’re at a low ebb)
- Nutritionists have revealed feel-good foods that can help to reduce low mood
- The recommended foods included egg yolks, fatty fishes and protein-rich snacks
- They argued the nutrients and minerals in the foods can help bolster your mood
- While people who suffer from depression were urged to avoid processed foods
Many people have seen their mental health take a hit amid the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, which has forced us all to spend more time indoors away from friends and loved ones.
If you’re at a low ebb, nutritionists have revealed some of the top feel-good foods that can help to reduce symptoms of depression, as well as what to avoid if you are prone to low mood.
The top foods to add to your diet to boost your mood include egg yolks, fatty fish and dark chocolate, while people with depression are urged to limit their intake of caffeine and processed food.
Although the recommended foods are not a medical cure for depression, experts argue that the nutrients and minerals within them can help to bolster your spirits.
Here, FEMAIL shares the food that people can easily add into their diet to help them feel more upbeat.
Nutritionists have revealed some of the feel-good foods that can help to reduce low mood and the symptoms of depression, as well as foods to steer clear of (stock image)
FEEL-GOOD FOODS THAT CAN HELP SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
DARK CHOCOLATE CAN IMPROVE HORMONE BALANCE
Chocolate is viewed as a sweet treat, but one registered nutritionist argued that dark chocolate can actually help to improve the body’s hormone balance.
Registered nutritionist Julie Hodgson explained that dark chocolate is rich is magnesium, which can calm the nervous system. The health and wellbeing coach added other foods that have a similar impact include avocados, almonds, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds and kale.
She recommended: ‘Eat magnesium-rich foods such as avocados, dark chocolate, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, kale, spinach, and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and beans.
‘Magnesium is needed for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body including those important in mental health. It may improve hormone balance associated with low mood and is particularly beneficial for calming the nervous system and relaxing the mind.’
FATTY FISH, NUTS AND PLANT OILS
Oily fish is a great food to add into your diet as it provides the body with many good fats that help the heart, lungs and circulation.
Louise Wilcockson, who runs Nu Yu Fitness in Windsor, said fatty fish like mackerel and salmon can also help to ease symptoms of depression.
As well as oily fish, the nutritionist said nuts, seeds and plant oils also have the same benefits because they all contain omega-3 fatty acids.
She explained: ‘These provide the building blocks for healthy brain development and function.
‘Some studies into depression suggest that supplementing our diets with these healthy fats may help ease symptoms. Try adding nuts to your yoghurt or seeds to your salad to bump up your intake.’
Meanwhile, Julie Hodgson added that the omega-3 in oily fish can also help to regulate inflammation, which is linked to depression.
The registered nutritionist recommended eating fish including salmon, herring, mackerel and anchovies in around two or three portions each week, or an adequate supplement.
The recommended foods to help your mood included egg yolks, dark chocolate and fatty fish, for example salmon, herring, mackerel and anchovies (stock image)
LACK OF ZINC CAN CAUSE SEVERE DEPRESSION
One nutritionist urged people to make sure they know their vitamin levels and zinc levels to help prevent symptoms of depression.
Julie Hodgson explained that low zinc levels have been linked with depression, urging people to eat foods that are rich in the nutrient, including spinach, beef and pumpkin seeds.
She continued: ‘Low levels of vitamin D and zinc are shown in people with depression. Studies show the lower the zinc the more severe the depression.
‘Zinc-rich foods include spinach, beef, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, beans and chicken.
‘A large number of the population are also deficient in vitamin D and studies show a direct link between improved levels of depression and vitamin D levels in the body.
‘Increasing exposure by getting outside in the sun, as well as eating vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish, sardines, salmon, tuna, milk, eggs and mushrooms, can help. It can also be beneficial to test levels to identify nutrient deficiencies.’
While nutritionist Hannah Sweetman agreed, recommending people eat seafood, nuts and wholegrains to boost their zinc levels.
She added: ‘High-quality protein sources and seafood along with nuts, wholegrains, and dairy products are a great source of the mineral zinc.
‘When looking to help modulate mood aim for a diet rich in nutrients.
‘Keep to a variety of fruit and vegetables paired with lean protein sources finishing with an appropriate amount of wholegrain carbohydrate sources and healthy fats for your energy requirements.’
She continued: ‘Enjoy your oily fish – omega 3 found mainly in oily fish are shown to protect against depression, anxiety and mental health problems.
‘The main omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are needed by the body for healthy brain function, cell membranes, hormone and nerve transmission. They also help regulate inflammation linked to depression.
‘The best source of EPA and DHA is oily fish including salmon, herring, mackerel and anchovies. It is recommended you eat two to three portions of oily fish per week or consider supplementation.’
EAT MORE EGG YOLKS
Egg yolks unexpectedly also have benefits for easing the symptoms of depression because they are rich in vitamin D, which has links with depression and brain functioning.
Louise Wilcockson said oily fish, red meats and fortified breakfast cereals, which are cereals containing added vitamins and minerals, are also rich in vitamin D.
The personal trainer added: ‘Deficiency in this vitamin [D] is sometimes associated with depression and other mood disorders.
‘Aside from these food sources, the best source of vitamin D comes from the sun so aim to get outside for at least 20 minutes every day for some mood-boosting activity and that much needed vitamin boost.’
EAT MORE PROTEIN IF YOU TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANTS
People who take antidepressants should make sure they are eating enough protein, as one nutritionist said a lack of the nutrient can trigger ‘depressive symptoms’ in people who take the medication.
Louise Wilcockson urged people to eat more foods which contain the amino acid tryptophan, which the body uses to create more melatonin and serotonin – a vital mood hormone.
The personal trainer recommended eating protein rich foods such as turkey, beef and dark leafy greens to increase their intake of the amino acid.
She continued: ‘These foods are fantastic sources of the amino acid tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin (our happy hormone). Low tryptophan levels can trigger depressive symptoms in some people who have take antidepressants.
‘Aim to include 1-2 palm-sized portions of protein with every meal and plenty of dark leafy greens in your salads to keep your levels topped up.’
Meanwhile, another nutritionist urged people to add protein into their diet to balance their blood sugar levels. Julie Hodgson explained that blood sugar has an influence on our ‘energy, mood and outlook’ and advised people to eat sufficient protein regularly in their meals.
FOODS TO STEER CLEAR OF IF YOU ARE FEELING LOW
CAFFEINE CAN WORSEN INSOMNIA AND ANXIETY
Alcohol is a well-known depressant, but one nutrition expert argued that caffeine can also worsen anxiety and insomnia.
Louise Wilcockson advised people who suffer from low mood to choose caffeine-free beverages or limit their intake.
She added: ‘Caffeine tends to give you a high then knock you back down and affects everyone differently. It may also worsen feelings of anxiety and insomnia.
‘Choose caffeine-free soft drinks and beverages wherever possible or limit your intake to one or two drinks only, and earlier in the day so as not to affect your sleep.’
SUGAR ONLY GIVES A SHORT-TERM HIT
We all enjoy grabbing a sugary treat every now and then or snacking late at night, but a nutritionist revealed that sugar can worsen your mood later on.
Louise Wilcockson explained: ‘Sugar. It’s often our go-to option when we’re feeling low as it gives us comfort and numbs the pain for a while. This is a short term fix though as it quickly makes you feel worse emotionally and physically once the initial “hit” has subsided.
‘Rather than reach for the chocolates or biscuit tin, try satisfying any sugar cravings with healthier options such as plain yoghurt topped with fruit and nuts (for that essential omega-3 and selenium boost) or sliced apple with peanut butter. You’ll still get that sugar hit but without the unpleasant after effects.
‘Eating 3 healthy and high protein meals a day can also help regulate hormones to reduce sugar cravings.’
While Monica Durigon, who runs Everyday Nutrition, urged people to reduce foods that are high in sugar to balance blood sugar levels to avoid ‘glycemic highs and lows’ and anxiety.
The nutritionist added: ‘Our dietary choices, especially certain types of carbohydrates such as refined carbs, refined grains, white flours and the products made with them, processed foods, and foods high in added sugars affect our blood sugar balance.
‘Having an imbalanced blood sugar, with glycemic high and lows can lead to irritability, anxiety and low moods.
‘Reducing foods and drinks high in sugar, adding more fiber from vegetables, making sure that we have protein which each meal, eating regularly, ideally with a gap of 5 hours between our main meal and avoiding grazing or snacking too often, helps balancing blood sugar level and has a positive effect on moods.’
SENSITIVITY TO PRESERVATIVES CAN AFFECT YOUR MOOD
Nutrition coach Louise Wilcockson revealed that having a sensitivity to preservatives in processed foods can also negatively impact our mood.
She advised people to instead try to buy foods in their ‘most natural state’, rather than simply grabbing food in a packet from off the shelf.
She explained: ‘Some people notice that they’re sensitive to some preservatives in processed foods which can have a negative impact on our mood and symptoms.
‘As a general rule, any food that comes in a packet, coupled with a long list of ingredients on the back tends to be processed. Wherever possible, look to buy foods in their most natural state (unprocessed) and include many food sources from the list above to help with your symptoms.’
She added: ‘Balancing blood sugar by eating sufficient protein at each meal is critical for managing depression, with your blood sugar levels having an influence on your energy, mood and outlook.
‘Eating sufficient protein at regular intervals and avoiding refined carbohydrates helps the insulin response, keeps blood sugar levels stable regulating mood over the day.’
REMEMBER TO EAT FOR ENJOYMENT
We all enjoy indulging in the odd treat now and again, and one nutritionist advised people to remember to eat for enjoyment as well to boost their wellbeing.
Hannah Sweetman, from Windsor, Berkshire, urged people to approach indulgences with a ‘minimal dose of enjoyment’ mindset to enjoy higher calorie foods.
The nutritionist, who runs Hannah Sweetman Nutrition, added: ‘If you are wondering how indulgences such as cakes and your favourite cookies fit into a mood-improving diet, then we must understand that our happiness and wellbeing is more than just nutrition.
‘A part of your well-being is comprised of social occasions and eating for enjoyment. Approach indulgences with a ‘minimal dose of enjoyment’ mindset.
‘This refers to the ability to know how much of a less nutrient dense (higher calorie) food you need to enjoy it.’
SELENIUM CAN PREVENT DEPRESSION
Selenium, which is an antioxidant and mineral, is known for playing an important role in the health of the immune system. But one nutrition coach argued that foods which are rich in selenium, for example cod, brazil nuts, walnuts and poultry, can also manage depression.
Louise Wilcockson explained that the essential mineral works alongside other nutrients to create an ‘antioxidant balance’ within our body’s cells.
She continued: ‘These foods contain selenium which is an essential mineral. This means we can only get it from food. Selenium works with other nutrients to create antioxidant balance in our body’s cells.
‘Some studies have shown that selenium’s function as an antioxidant could be necessary for preventing or managing depression.
‘If you include any of these food sources in to your diet on a daily basis, you should be getting enough to keep your cells in balance.’
ADD VITAMIN B TO YOUR DIET
Vitamins are extremely important for our health and immune system, and one nutrition coach claimed a vitamin B deficiency is also linked to depression.
Louise Wilcockson recommended eating more meat, seafood, leafy green vegetables and whole grains to prevent a deficiency in vitamin B.
She explained: ‘These foods are great sources of B-vitamins. A deficiency in B-vitamins (particularly B12) can be linked to depression.
‘A great way to get your B-vitamin hit is by blitzing a large handful of spinach and kale into a healthy breakfast smoothie, substituting white rice for wholegrain or swapping out sugary breakfast cereals for porridge oats.’
EAT UNRIPE BANANAS, KIM CHI AND LEEKS TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH
All parts of the body are linked, and one nutritionist urged people to support their gut health to improve their mood, as the brain is in ‘constant communication’ with the gut.
Monica Durigon recommended eating prebiotic foods, for example artichokes, unripe bananas, and probiotic food, including yoghurt and kimchi, to support healthy gut bacteria.
The wellbeing coach continued: ‘The gut and the brain are in constant communication through the vagus nerve with a bidirectional exchange of information. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, it runs all the way from the brain stem to part of the colon.
‘It is the motorway on which the inflammatory molecules travel from the gut to the brain. To support our gut health and reduce inflammation we must adopt an anti-inflammatory diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit and consuming specific foods , such as probiotic and prebiotics, which support healthy gut bacteria.
‘Prebiotic foods are foods which provides types of fiber particularly beneficial for our friendly gut bacteria, some of the best ones are garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, oats, chicory roots, unripe bananas.
‘Probiotic foods contain healthy bacteria, examples are fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kefir.’
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