If we are what we eat, can we eat ourselves happy?

Research continues to evolve in the area of mood disorders such as depression. It is known that depression can be triggered by a number of factors such as stress, trauma, hormonal changes and from the side effects of medication. Such events can cause an imbalance of the neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending messages between brain cells. Research suggests that amongst other things dietary factors play an important role in preventing and treating depression.

The hormone serotonin affects mood, and low levels can cause depression. There is increasing evidence that eating carbohydrates triggers the release of serotonin. So make sure your diet contains ample quantities of carbohydrates – around 50% of calorie intake should come from carbohydrates. Eat carbohydrates that release their energy slowly (low GI) such as whole grains rather than refined products, this will avoid peaks and troughs in blood-sugar levels.

A diet low in omega 3 fatty acids can change the structure of cell membranes causing serotonin release and uptake to be impaired. For a diet rich in Omega 3, oily fish such as salmon should be eaten 2-3 times a week. Vegetarians should include flax seed (linseed) in their diet – try adding to cereal, porridge and bread or in oil form as a salad dressing or butter replacement.
Other important nutrients include the vitamin B group, in particular folic acid and thiamin. Good sources of folic acid and thaimin are wholegrains and Marmite. Zinc is also important, rich sources of zinc include oysters, pumpkin seeds and beef.

Keep your eyes open for news articles on the link between vitamin D and depression. Vitamin D plays an important function in the brain, theoretically and in some trials vitamin D has been shown to improve mood however research in humans is still inconclusive. The sun is the most common source of vitamin D but good food sources include oily fish and eggs.

Research has predominately focused on the effects of individual foods and nutrients on depression however one study has shown that eating a healthy diet which by definition would include all the foods mentioned above is significant in preventing depression.

Here are a few mood boosting meals to try

  • Egg on wholegrain toast
  • Marmite on wholegrain toast
  • Porridge with a hand full pumpkin seeds added
  • Tinned salmon and salad sandwich on wholegrain bread
  • Smoked salmon and scrambled egg, with wholegrain toast
  • Jacket potato and baked beans
  • Oily fish, such as fresh tuna or salmon stir fried with vegetables and served with wholegrain rice, or rice / quinoa mix
  • Potato topped fish pie (using oily fish), served with green leafy vegetables
  • Spaghetti bolognaise (wholegrain pasta and lean mince meat)
  • Dark green leafy salad dressed with flaxseed oil

And remember to always add lots of vegetables to your meals and snack on fruit

Helen Money, written for www.challengeoxfordshire.co.uk

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