Please note: This post is intended to give tips and advice for best emotional health through nutrition. If you have been diagnosed with depression, or feel you may be suffering with this or any other mental illness, please consult your medical practitioner, and follow their advice. Do not stop taking any medication without the supervision of a doctor.
Are you a moody SOB?
I’m not judging, it’s perhapsmaybepossible that I was once.
Ever thought that what we put in our body could play a part in this?
Don’t even think for one second that it can’t!
But because what we eat affects us this way, the GOOD news is that if we start yamming the right stuff into our faces – we can improve, and even stabilise our moods and emotions.
No more meltdowns. No more unexplainable freakouts. No more random ups and downs. Sound good?
Of course it is no surprise that the same diet that is best for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, is also best for emotional health.
A whole food, plant-based diet is already superior to a diet rich in animal products in terms of maintaining good mental and emotional health. It is more alkaline and anti-inflammatory, as opposed to acidic and inflammatory, and so promotes more vitality and overall health – which in turn affects mood. In fact, depression is thought to be a disease of inflammation. So if you’re vegan and eating healthily, you’re already on the right path to great mental and emotional health.
But, there are certain foods that are especially helpful in achieving a balanced state of being.
Here are 4 foods (and 2 vitamins) to include in your daily diet to avoid experiencing the woohoos and the blues in the space of five minutes:
1. Whole grains
(Whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, millet, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, whole spelt)
Most plant foods, not just whole grains, are rich in tryptophan, which your body needs to produce serotonin – a neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for us feeling wellbeing and happiness.
Whole grains, being unrefined carbohydrates, are an excellent source of tryptophan, and as such, they can serve to regulate serotonin levels, elevating them if they are too low.
The OTHER reason whole grains are at the top of my list is because they maintain steady blood sugar – which also serves to stabilise your moods.
Refined grains such as white flour act as sugar in the body and thus spike your blood and affect your moods negatively. Just think of when a child is given sugar – they become hyperactive and bounce off the walls until they crash and become cranky. We do this too if we eat white flour and white sugar. There may not be walls involved but we get the same wired feeling before we crash!
Whole wheat is an easy way to get your whole grains (as long as you are not celiac). Think whole wheat toast, whole wheat pasta and noodles, whole wheat bagels, whole wheat couscous etc.
2. Nuts and seeds
(ALL nuts and seeds are great, but especially flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts)
So many reasons why we need the ol’ nuts and seeds, but stable moods is an important one.
Nuts and seeds contain magnesium, which has been shown to alleviate depression and irritability.
They are also rich in zinc, which is crucial for mental health, and omega 3, which – HELLO! – is the brain nutrient!
A lack of adequate omega 3 can result in depression. Try adding 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds to your cereal or soup every day, or grabbing four walnut halves as a snack.
Nuts and seeds (like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds etc) have a high tryptophan to total protein ratio which as we’ve seen, boosts serotonin levels, and have thus been shown to be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder.
3. Probiotic food (Gut food, if you will 🙂 )
(Sauerkraut, kimchi, non-dairy yoghurts, Ethiopian injera bread, apple cider vinegar, probiotic capsules)
We now know that just as gut health is massively linked to our immune system; it is also linked to mental health.
It is vital, more than ever thanks to deleterious elements that kill off our good gut bacteria such as antibiotics, chlorine in water, and hidden sugars (that feed bad gut bacteria); that we consistently replenish the good bacteria in our guts.
It’s a good idea, as well as incorporating some of the above foods into your diet, and especially if you’ve taken antibiotics for long periods of time (for acne, for example), to take a daily non-dairy probiotic.
A study entitled “Assessment of the Psychotropic Properties of Probiotics” found that one month of probiotics appeared to significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and hostility.
4. Beans and greens
(Black-eyed peas, red/white kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, cannellini beans, butter beans, haricot beans, fava beans etc – dark leafy greens; kale, collards, bok choy, broccoli, spinach etc)
Lots of depression sufferers have been found to be low in folic acid. Beans and greens are your best way to get this stuff!
Think bean chillies, bean stews or bean curries (on brown rice with steamed greens on the side – WAY to get three mood foods in one meal!); soups containing beans and veg, salads full of beans and spinach, couscous with beans, or you know what? The great British culinary delight that is beans on (whole wheat) toast!
5. Take your vitamin B12!
It’s been known for decades that poor mental health is often associated with low levels of folic acid (eat your beans – see above!) and vitamin B12.
You need to be taking vitamin B12 anyway if you’re eating plant-based (and possibly even if you’re not), so ideally you’re doing this already.
6. Take vitamin D supplements if you need to
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, especially in areas of the world that don’t get a great deal of sunlight, so get your levels checked at the docs, and supplement if you need to – either with plant-based vitamin D2, or vegan vitamin D3.