Top Mood-Boosting Foods
I’ve got great news about Food & Mood research. And those of you who are seafood lovers will be really happy about this.
A recent study compiling data from clinical trials involving over 45,000 people showed that dietary improvements can indeed boost peoples’ mood. The study found that all diet improvements—weight loss, fat reduction, or improved nutrients—had equal effects on depressive symptoms. Most of the people in this study didn’t have symptoms severe enough to cause clinical depression, which means these findings are relevant for most if not all of us.
Dr. Joseph Firth, author of this study, said to Science Daily, “This is actually good news. The similar effects from any type of dietary improvement suggests that highly-specific or specialized diets are unnecessary for the average individual. Instead, just making simple changes is equally beneficial for mental health. In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals which are high in fiber and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars appears to be sufficient for avoiding the potentially negative psychological effects of a ‘junk food’ diet.”
Dr. Drew Ramsey, recently featured in the New York Times as a leader in the field of Nutritional Psychiatry, translates studies like this one into food and recipe recommendations. In his newest book, Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health, he outlines the percentage of us in the US with insufficient dietary intake of what he calls the Essential 21 Nutrients. Here are several book highlights:
· 98% of us are deficient in omega-3 fat intake, which can cause poor memory and focus, low mood and anxiety, and accelerated brain aging. Examples of foods rich in omegas are seafood, fish, canola oil, and navy beans.
· 75% of us are low in Vitamin B9 (folate) intake, which can lead to depression and anxiety. Lentils, chickpeas, brussel sprouts, spinach, and asparagus are great sources of folate.
· 97% of us don’t get enough fiber (the stuff that feeds the “good” bacteria), which can lead to fatigue and depression. Fiber-rich foods include navy beans, lentils, and collards.
· 80% of us are missing out on enough phytonutrients, beneficial substances found in some plants, which can cause low energy and mood. Top food sources include dark chocolate (yep!), blueberries, hazelnuts, and artichokes.
· 85-90% of us are lacking in Vitamin D intake, which can lead to fatigue and depression. Great sources are wild salmon, trout, sardines, tuna, pork ribs, and eggs.
Dr. Ramsey and his colleague, Dr. Laura LaChance, searched for evidence to determine which foods offer the most nutrients proven to help prevent and promote the recovery from depressive disorders. In their study published last year, they calculated the Antidepressant Food Score of many nutrient-dense foods considered beneficial in treating and preventing depression.
Seafood (oysters were #1!), liver and organ meats (kidney and heart), leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and cabbage) are at the top of their list. Traditional diets like Ayurveda and the Mediterranean promote many of these nutrient-dense foods, much more so than the Western diet, with their inclusion of plenty of vegetables, seafood, and whole grains.
Inspired by this research and by my patients who are transforming their diets, I piloted an Ayurvedic-inspired Culinary Medicine workshop last month. We made (and then devoured) three recipes that were easy, fun, and totally delicious. I heard from attendees that feeling intimidated by elaborate recipes, lack of time, stress, and challenging relationships with food get in the way of cooking healthy meals, but if they had easy-ish recipes and a go-to shopping list proven to help them feel better, they’d give healthy cooking their best shot.
The evening gave me hope that with continued research, awareness, and practical guidance, we can try to reverse course from our Western food trends and begin to feel better as a nation. Cheers to that (insert oyster shells clinking here)!