Sharon Salomon ENVIRONMENTAL NUTRITION NEWSLETTER
Posted April 14, 2012
The food choices you make every day can impact your frame of
mind. Research shows that there are many variables associated with
diet and mood, including the way in which dietary patterns,
specific foods, and nutrients can impact your brain and mood.
There's plenty of evidence to suggest that the typical American
diet of salty, sugary and fatty foods may be partly responsible for
depressive disorders afflicting an estimated 9 percent of the U.S.
population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
A growing body of evidence links eating patterns with an
increased risk for depression. Boost your mood with these food
1. Whole foods versus processed foods dietary pattern.
Researchers reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2009
that a processed foods dietary pattern -- one that's rich in
processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, fried food, refined
cereals and high-fat dairy -- is a risk factor for depression in
middle-aged people, compared with a whole foods pattern rich in
fruits, vegetables and fish.
These results match those from a 2010 study also published in
British Journal of Psychiatry, which concluded that a dietary
pattern characterized by vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and whole
grains was associated with lower odds for major depression than the
typical Western diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains
and sugary products.
2. Anti-inflammatory eating. We already know that diets high in
processed foods and low in plant foods, which promote chronic, low
grade inflammation, are implicated as a contributing factor in
heart disease. Now, researchers are exploring how this diet also
impacts depression. Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center reported in the November 2011 Journal of
Rheumatology that compelling evidence suggests inflammation
contributes to the development of depression.
Many depressed people have higher levels of inflammation in their
bodies, which appears to promote depression through many biological
pathways. In a 2004 study published in Archives of Internal
Medicine, scientists concluded that major depression is strongly
associated with c-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker of levels of
inflammation in the body that is linked to promotion of chronic
disease, such as heart disease. This could help to explain the
association between cardiovascular disease and depression.
However, any dietary pattern that includes fruits, vegetables and
omega-3 fatty acids could protect against both heart disease,
depression, and even obesity, cancer, diabetes and other health
problems related to inflammation.
Adherence to a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes
fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, legumes, fish, and olive oil,
has also been shown to be protective against depression. This diet
provides abundant phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, B
vitamins and antioxidants -- all of which are considered to be anti-
3. "Feel good" brain chemicals boosted with balanced diet.
Research has shown that people who are depressed may have low
levels of positive neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) like
serotonin and dopamine, which are often referred to as "feel good"
brain chemicals. In fact, many medications used to treat depression
specifically target raising serotonin.
"Serotonin is the neurotransmitter most directly linked to
depression, although other neurotransmitters, like dopamine, can
make people feel good. Serotonin is the relaxing and calming
neurotransmitter, whereas dopamine is the energetic 'feel good'
neurotransmitter," says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of
"Food and Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your
Best." It follows that maximizing serotonin levels is a good thing
The brain uses the amino acid tryptophan to make serotonin.
Although tryptophan is widely distributed in protein-rich foods,
such as meat, poultry and fish, other amino acids in those foods
interfere with the entry of tryptophan into the brain which results
in the brain's inability to make adequate serotonin.
That's where eating a balanced diet comes in. However, eating
carbohydrate foods such as grains, fruits, legumes and starchy
vegetables along with protein foods, enables tryptophan to get into
the brain. When you eat carbohydrates, your body digests and
absorbs them and blood glucose levels rise. In response, insulin
levels rise, which ushers glucose from your blood into your body's
tissues, and also moves some of the competing amino acids from the
blood into muscle tissue. This mechanism helps open a passage for
tryptophan to enter the brain and be converted to serotonin.
As with so many other disease states, it's not about focusing on
specific nutrients, it's about focusing on a well-balanced diet of
nourishing, whole foods. Drew Ramsey, M.D., co-author of "The
Happiness Diet," says, "You don't have to eat just to boost
serotonin. A well-nourished brain will usually take care of
Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of "The Good Mood Diet," says,
"The links between what we don't eat and what we do eat are very
strong for depression; nurturing your body with the right fuel can
help to heal it. People who never eat well think that's as good as
they can feel, until they make the necessary dietary changes and
realize how good they can feel."
Foods to beat depression
Which foods should you eat every day to boost your mood? EN spoke
with leading nutrition and psychology experts to get the scoop on
important brain-fuel foods:
Wild salmon, oatmeal, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, spinach, skim
milk, ground flaxseeds and blackberries -- Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D.,
author and Health and Wellness expert for the "Today" show.
Shrimp, cherry tomatoes, watermelon, chile peppers, beets, garlic
and eggs -- Drew Ramsey, M.D., practicing psychiatrist and coauthor
of "The Happiness Diet."
Green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruits, vegetables,
legumes, nuts and seeds -- Susan Biali, M.D., B.Sc., author of
"Live the Life You Love."
Fat-free milk, eggs, bananas, beans, broccoli, cocoa powder and
olive oil -- Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of "The Good Mood
Whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, keep caffeine and
alcohol to a minimum, and fish at least three times a week -- Hyla
Cass, M.D., co-author of "Natural High."
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