This article is a summary of information from an article written a decade ago by a dietitian friend of mine, Paula Tazzyman. I am not qualified to talk about food and the impact it has on mood at a technical level which is why I originally asked this wonderful dietitian to explore this for my clients. The original article is on my website if you would like to read it in full, but I felt during this extended lockdown, it would be good to put this information out again for my clients.
Our brains, like our bodies, require nutrients to function well. During this never ending lockdown, many people are really starting to struggle with low mood and depression. Whilst we can’t fix the real cause of this, what we can do is give our brains the best tools to survive it. That means feeding your brain with the nutrients it needs.
Here are a few things that are easy to do and will help support your mood.
1.Eat tryptophan rich protein foods.
Tryptophan is used to make serotonin, the feel good brain chemical. To help your brain produce serotonin naturally, try adding these foods into your diet:
- cheese – especially cottage, swiss and cheddar
- soy and other legumes.
2. Eat plenty of zinc rich foods.
Zinc too is required to make serotonin. To boost your zinc naturally eat:
- Oysters, ideally fresh
- red meat
- pumpkin seeds are a good option from plant foods.
(Signs of zinc deficiency include: white spots/ridges on nails, stretch marks, poor wound healing, mouth ulcers, eczema & psoriasis, hair loss, low immunity, loss of appetite, impaired sense of taste and smell).
According to the dietitian, blood tests for zinc are not very accurate and if you suspect you may be low in zinc, see a good naturopath to test for this. Zinc can unbalance other nutrients so if you want to try a supplement as well as natural foods, see a naturopath first.
3. Eat a magnesium rich diet.
Magnesium is also involved in making serotonin. Magnesium calms the nervous system and relaxes the body. Easy ways to add magnesium are:
- Brazil nuts (3-4 per day)
- rolled oats
- brown rice
- green leafy vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- legumes and dark chocolate ( a particular favourite of mine!).
- Bathing in epsom salts
Low magnesium levels may show through tight muscles leading to cramps and muscle fatigue, increased hyperactivity and impulsivity, poor sleep, poor attention, constipation, anxiety and depression.
4. Omega 3 fish oils.
Omega 3 fish oils are a great support for mood. Naturally, eating fish is a good natural support here but may not be enough alone to support the levels of Omega 3 needed to support mood. A good Omega supplement with EPA may also help here.
Signs that the body needs more omega 3 fats are excessive thirst; frequent urination; rough, dry, bumpy skin; dry, dull hair/dandruff; soft, brittle nails, eczema, asthma, hay fever, poor night vision, sensitivity to light, visual disturbances, distractibility, poor concentration, difficulties with memory, depression, excessive mood swings, undue anxiety, difficulties falling asleep or waking up.
5. Vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming common in Australia now. A blood test will show if your levels are adequate to support your mood. She suggests having levels well above 75 nmol/L all year round and that levels of 100-120 nmol/L are good for mental health.
The easiest way to meet this need is through exposure to sunlight. The darker your skin, the more exposure you need. This is usually easy to meet in Summer but can be hard in Winter so a good supplement can assist through the Winter months. Obviously take care of your skin and don’t get burnt trying to fill up on your Vitamin D levels in the sun.
This last one isn’t part of our diet but has a big impact on our mood also. It is suggested that 20 minutes of elevated heart rate a day will help boost our mood. Get out for a quick walk around the block, put a YouTube exercise class on or join an online gym class. It is hard to start exercising when we feel down, but if you set yourself a 20 minute goal a day it is usually attainable and over time we start to enjoy this mood bolstering outing.
The full article by Paula explains some of this in more detail if you are interested. There is no need to overhaul your diet, simply being aware to add some of these foods in on a daily basis, getting some sunshine and going for a walk, can help keep us mentally healthy whilst we sit out this lockdown.
I hope this helps. As always, reach out if you need and book a session.