There is no doubt that depression is complex, and a lot of factors can play a role. Every aspect needs to be explored, and there is a tool right in front of us; food. Although food is not a cure, eating right influences how you feel. It is a step in the right direction.
Neurotransmitters and Amino Acids
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that aid neurons; communicating throughout the brain and essentially your body. They can have a large affect on how we feel, both physically and emotionally. Neurotransmitters are synthesized from amino acids. Amino acids are found in the foods we eat, therefore our diet can influence how we feel. Four neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood are:
1. Dopamine: Helps to regulate our pleasure and reward systems.
2. GABA: Acts as a natural sedative, aiding in anxiety.
3. Endorphin: Aids in pain; natural pain killer. Also, endorphins help control emotions.
4. Serotonin: Keeps our emotions stable and helps create an overall sense of well-being. It also aids in sleep, appetite and is linked to depression.
Balance is key when it comes to neurotransmitters. When there is an imbalance, our mood and sense of well-being will reflect this. When neurotransmitters begin to deplete, that is when issues arise.
Amino acids are essential for neurotransmitter transport. They ultimately have an impact not only on our mood, but our stress and energy levels as well. The following four amino acids are crucial in regards to mood function:
1. Glutamine: When you become stressed, high levels of glutamine are used. Supplements are available that contain glutamine; helping fight depression and fatigue. Foods that offer glutamine are; beets, chicken, spinach, fish, lentils, cheese, cabbage, etc.
2. Phenylalanine: This is an essential amino acid, meaning that the body can not produce it. Phenylalanine helps to form tyrosine (see below), and can directly affect brain chemistry. This can be found in many leafy greens, fish, peas, turkey, edamame beans, pork, broccoli, etc.
3. Tryptophan: This amino acid once again, needs to be consumed through our diet. Tryptophan is directly related to serotonin levels, which affect our mood. Foods high in tryptophan are; mushrooms, game meats, spinach, crab, bamboo shoots, turnips and many more food items.
4. Tyrosine: Tyrosine is synthesized in the body (nonessential amino acid). It is made from phenylalanine, which is why it is so important to maintain amino acid balance. It is another amino acid that highly influences mood and stress levels.. This can be found in; cauliflower, cheese, corn, fish, egg whites, asparagus and more.
The Relation Between Food and Mood
We all know the saying, 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away'. When looking at the big picture, this is fairly accurate. A healthy diet not only keeps your body running at an optimal level, it aids in mood.
We are eating so many processed and refined foods, that our brain is sometimes neglected. Refined sugar for example, produces a sense of calmness (essentially fooling our brain). This feeling only lasts a short time. The longer these low nutrient foods are consumed, the more our brain becomes affected. Natural chemicals that affect our mood, become depleted. That is why we need to
regularly consume foods that provide necessary amino acid function. Here are some of the ways that food is negatively affecting our mood:
1. Not eating enough: Modern society is obsessed with weight and being thin. As well, people live busy lives. Sometimes meals are skipped due to long work days. Either way, consuming enough calories is crucial. When you don't eat, blood sugar levels dip. This directly affects your mood. I'm sure you have experienced this before. You haven't eaten all day, and you just don't feel yourself. It is because you need to fuel up with food.
2. Dreaded Carbs: Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rep, which is a shame because you need them. Carbs are linked to serotonin levels. It is all about choosing the RIGHT carbs. Stick to whole grain carbohydrates; vegetables, brown rice, legumes, etc.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids: Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are related to depression. Try eating two servings of fish every week. As well, consume snacks of nuts and seeds. Throw some flax seeds on your salad at dinner. Slight changes can make a difference.
4. Not getting enough nutrients: Nutrients are needed for a reason, they keep our body and mind running at optimal levels. For example, low levels of iron can be associated with depression. Folic acid helps to fight off depression as well.
The Best Foods For Mood and Depression
As mentioned, there are various factors that play a role in depression. One person's depression may be triggered by trauma, while the next will be triggered by seasonal affects. Just as there are varying triggers, there are varying forms of depression, like postpartum depression. Although a combination of factors may be responsible for depression, nutrient deficiency is a good area to target. Here are some of the best foods for depression:
1. Chocolate: This is not referring to a Snickers candy bar. Consume dark chocolate that is cacao rich. It is high in antioxidants and is associated with serotonin levels. Although dark chocolate has benefits, don't eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Moderation is key.
2. Salmon: Omega-3 fatty acids are very important regarding mood and maintaining healthy brain function. Nuts are also a good source.
3. Chillies: They tend to boost endorphin levels.
4. Leafy greens: Dark leafy greens provide so many nutrients (including vitamin B, which is great for depression). Spinach for instance, provides tryptophan (as we now know, is used to produce serotonin).
Changing your diet, is not a cure for depression. If you think that you may be depressed, you should seek out professional care. However, eating a nutrient-rich diet will contribute to you feeling better. There is nothing to lose by changing your diet, you can only benefit.