Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Food and mood

Ran into a former classmate the other day and she mentioned her interest in food and mood. That reminded me that I started writing this blog post a couple of months ago and then forgot to complete it. Oops. So… Here we go…
A number of studies have found a link between food and mood. Just like my (now not so recent) post about diet and aggression discussed, food can have an huge impact on your psychological well being. A recent article in the Huffington Post reported on several studies. These studies showed that regularly consuming foods such as commercial baked goods and fast food was linked with increased depression. There may be other factors at play here as unhealthy behaviours tend to go together. For example, someone who consumes an unhealthy diet is probably more likely to be sedentary, smoke, consume alcohol, etc than is someone who consumes a healthy diet.
If food can affect your mood then what’s the best diet for good mental health? Pretty much the same diet as is best for your physical health. That’s a diet that’s high in vegetables and fruits and whole grains and low in processed foods and meat. Some more specific dietary tips that might improve your mood include:
  • Make sure that you’re drinking enough water. Sometimes you may be feeling lethargic because you’re a little dehydrated. A drink of water may help you wake-up and increase your energy.
  • Eat fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines) a couple of times a week (or take an omega-3 supplement). Omega-3s are important for brain function and may help boost your mood, as well as improving your cholesterol profile.
  • Deficiency in vitamin B6, though uncommon, can result in depression. To ensure you’re getting enough B6 consume foods such as, animal protein foods, spinach, potatoes, bananas, salmon, and sunflower seeds.
  • Don’t skip meals! And make sure that you consume protein and a complex carb at every meal. This will help to keep your blood sugar steady. Dips in blood sugar can result in weakness and irritability.
  • Do you ever find yourself bingeing on carbs when you’re feeling sad? You could actually be self-medicating. That’s because carbs increase the level of serotonin in your brain which is a mood booster. The problem is that simple carbs (like white bread) will ultimately lead to a crash later leaving you feeling even lower than when you began eating. Instead of gorging on cookies, try having a sweet potato or whole grain crackers with peanut butter.
  • Low B12 and low folate levels have been found in many studies of depressed patients. This doesn’t mean that lack of these vitamins are the cause of their depression but there’s no harm in making sure that you’re getting enough of these vitamins. B12 is only found in animal foods like meats, yoghurt, cheese and fortified breakfast cereals. Folate is found in leafy green vegetables (think spinach, asparagus, kale, and broccoli), legumes, oranges, and enriched cereals.

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Is that doughnut making you depressed?

According to a recent study published in The International Journal of Obesity high-fat diets may lead to “depressive-like behaviour”. This study, which looked at a comparison of mice fed a low-fat diet and mice fed a high-fat diet, found that mice on the high-fat diet exhibited certain depressive-like behaviours. These included avoiding open areas and increased immobility during a swimming test. Of course, these results were reported as Rich, fatty comfort foods can lead to depression, study finds in the Globe and Mail. Now, it may well be true that a high-fat diet can increase risk of depression but it’s a huge leap to make that conclusion based on this study. Firstly, the study was looking at mice not humans. Any sort of animal study may not be directly translatable to humans, and laboratory conditions certainly do not mimic conditions of our daily lives. Secondly, the study found the high-fat diet led to depressive-like behaviour not depression. There is a huge difference there. A little bit of lethargy may be a sign of depression but is not necessarily clinical depression. Thirdly, it’s difficult to compare the diet the mice were fed to our diet and even more of a stretch to say that “comfort foods” can lead to depression. I doubt that these mice were being fed mac and cheese or doughnuts to up their fat intake (and even if they were, who are we to say what constitutes comfort food for a mouse?). Finally, the researchers made the mice obese, it wasn’t just the consumption of fatty foods that caused them to exhibit “depressive-like behaviour”. We can’t say if it was the high-fat diet that made them exhibit these behaviours or simply the obesity which could be caused by the over consumption of any or all macronutrients. So, do rich, fatty comfort foods make us depressed? I don’t know. I sure can’t tell based on this study alone. My advice, eat a balanced diet including carbs, protein, and fat and don’t worry too much that you’re going to develop depression because you indulged in a cookie.