Could it be true that our happiness is dependent on what lies at the tip of our forks? It is true that our daily food choices can affect our mood and overall mental health. Several studies have found that people who ate a poor-quality diet — one that was high in processed foods and unhealthy fats — were more likely to report symptoms of depression. In fact, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, consuming foods that trigger inflammation, such as sugary beverages, refined grains and red meat, and avoiding foods that prevent inflammation, such as fruits, olive oil and green leafy vegetables increases the risk of being diagnosed with depression by 29-41% when compared to only eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
What it boils down to is that what we eat matters for every aspect of our health, especially our mental health. Design a diet that uses food to your advantage. Eat your way to a happier life by following these 8 steps:
- Include tryptophan, an essential amino acid (protein building block) that produces serotonin and melatonin. Inadequate amounts of serotonin can cause depression, anxiety and insomnia. Best sources come from poultry, warm milk, fish and lamb.
- Don’t forget Vitamin D. Adequate levels may help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder, which increases during the colder, darker months of the year. Best sources are sunlight, salmon, tuna, milk and vitamin D fortified products.
- Add in serotonin, a chemical produced by the body that regulates mood, sleep, anxiety and helps alleviate depression. Best sources come from avocados, bananas, plums, dates, eggplant, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, plantains, tomatoes and walnuts.
- Sprinkle in some melatonin, a hormone involved in regulating your body’s daily rhythms. At night, serotonin is converted into melatonin to promote sleepiness. Best sources come from oatmeal, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, barley and supplements.
- Don’t forget the dopamine & norepinephrine. These Neurotransmitters can sharpen attention, alertness and concentration. The best sources come from meat, fish and yogurt.
- Mix in Omega 3 fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat that is linked to heart health and the prevention and management of depression. Best sources are found in salmon, tuna, trout, canola oil, walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Add more fun with folic acid. Low levels have been associated with depression, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Best sources come from fortified breads and cereals, liver, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, fruits and dark green leafy vegetables.
- And finally, acetylcholine, a chemical that leads to improved concentration, focus, muscle coordination and memory. The best source are whole eggs.
Quality matters over quantity. As you add in these “happy” foods, remove the foods linked to mental health symptoms, such as added sugar, processed foods and trans fats. This combination will guide you toward living a happier and healthier life!