By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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Stressful life events may contribute to the onset and course of mood deterioration and disorders such as depression. Stress is a pervasive in a everyday life that critically affects development and functioning (1). Acute and chronic exposure to stress can alter both the quantity and quality of calories consumed, and stress-induced alterations in food intake and energy balance can interact with emotional state (2).
Food and mood:
Several nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, B9 (folate), and zinc, can cause symptoms of depression and dementia such as low mood, fatigue, cognitive decline, and irritability (3), (4).
Dietary patterns high in processed foods, or a “western dietary pattern,” are strongly correlated with an increased risk of developing depression, mild cognitive impairment, and ADHD (5), (6), (7).
Food insecurity, or inadequate access to sufficient nutritious and culturally appropriate food, is also independently associated with mood and anxiety disorders (8).
On the other hand, a “whole foods,” traditional, and a Mediterranean diet have been found to be protective against developing depression among other mental illnesses (9), (10), (11).
Stress control and functional foods:
Food environment such as eating styles or nutrients, greatly affects mental health especially in children and teenager. The medical treatment may not improve the quality of life. Therefore the goal of functional foods is to improve or maintain quality of life in mental health before medical treatment is required (12).
Here are some food options that can provide mood boosting benefits:
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, and tuna (not canned), are great choices to help fight depression; as they are rich sources of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are important in brain health and may be involved in the functioning of serotonin, a neurotransmitter important in the regulation of mood (13).
Nuts such as cashews, brazil nuts, and hazelnuts are helpful in supplementing omega-3 fats; but walnuts seem to be most effective in stress reduction. Walnuts are known to support overall brain health, being one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 and a great source of protein to help keep blood sugar levels at a healthy balance. A study found that adults, who ate nuts, and specifically walnuts, were more likely to have higher levels of optimism, energy, hope, concentration, and a greater interest in activities (14).
Flaxseed and chia seeds are wonderful additions to your diet if you struggle with depression. As with some of the other foods mentioned, these two types of seeds are particularly great sources of omega-3 fats. Just 1 tablespoon of chia seeds provides approximately 61% of your daily recommended amount of omega-3 and 1 tablespoon of flaxseed provides roughly 39% of the daily recommendation (15).
Additionally, pumpkin and squash seeds are a great way to increase tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps create serotonin (16).
Eating vegetables can be of great help if you struggle with depression. One reason is that people with depression have been found to have a lower dietary intake of folate compared to those without depression (17).
Folate, fiber, and other nutrients make vegetables a wonderful choice when looking for foods to help improve and stabilize mood. Leafy green vegetables are also good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is one of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, the other two being DHA and EPA. Look for Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, and watercress.
Several studies have found that microorganisms living in your gut, including probiotics, can play a key role in mood regulation by helping to reduce inflammation in your body, produce feel-good neurotransmitters, and affect your stress response (18).
This might be the factor why people with digestive disorders tend to develop stress and anxiety. Foods containing probiotics are: yogurt, hard cheese, tofu, pickles, paneer, fermented foods like Idli etc.
Our bodies interact with the foods we eat, and the choices we make each day can impact our body’s ability to function at its best. Although there is no specific diet that has been proven to alleviate stress, we can see that there are plenty of nutrient-rich foods that can help to keep our brains healthy.