It seems as if everyone today is suffering from some degree of anxiety or depression. Our lives are busier than ever with increasingly demanding jobs, fast paced technology and media, packed schedules, and pressure to keep doing more. We are a society that thrives on what’s new, which makes things exciting, but also easy to lose gratitude for what we have...because, after all, what we have is probably “so yesterday” already.
I grew up in small New England town where the pace of life was a bit slower than city life. In fact when I visited a city and then eventually lived in one, I found myself exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of the day. It was exciting to be in the midst of all the happenings, but I noticed myself getting further and further away from nature and the connection to my body. I often thought, how do these people sustain this level of energy and stimulation all the time? Quick answer, they don’t. Not without a great cost to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. We are a nation that survives on coffee. Really, think about it...how productive would we be without caffeine and sugar to keep us going? Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving up my daily cup of joe anytime soon, but just think about how we keep ourselves going to sustain this whirlwind pace we have created. No one has time for anything anymore! We are all so busy, yet, depressed, have poor energy, stressed to the max, and often sick as a result.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders can have a strong genetic component, but our lifestyle and diet today is also heavily contributing to the sharp increase in morbidity. We all have experienced some degree of depression at some point in our lives. Major clinical depression is another beast all-together that requires an individualistic treatment plan, often including medication and psychological counseling. There are chemicals in our brains called neurotransmitters that allow our nerves to talk to each other. These include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine-our “feel good” chemicals. It is believed that those who suffer from depression have less of these available, and thus, resulting in a lower mood. Antidepressants help make more of these chemicals available, ultimately improving mood.
Exciting new research suggests that there are natural “antidepressants” called polyphenols found in many whole foods we consume. Polyphenols are micronutrients found in many plant foods. The studies suggest that these natural chemicals can affect the physiological and biochemical reactions in our body in the same way that an antidepressant medication would. I am never ceased to be amazed at what nature provides for us and how incredibly intelligent our bodies are! These powerful little mood enhancing nutrients can be found in foods such as apples, kale, berries, grapes, and onions. I would also like to highlight three categories of foods that can be crucial to improving mood.
1. Chocolate (dark chocolate, or raw “cacao”): Cacao is raw chocolate before we add the cream, sugar, and flavoring. It is high in antioxidants, contains calming magnesium, and decreases toxic stress hormones like cortisol. You can buy it in it’s raw powder form or eat it as delicious dark chocolate in small doses as it is higher in milk fat and calories.
2. Carbs: Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately and partially for good reason:
refined sugar, a huge contributor to obesity and diabetes. Not all carbs are bad, however, and whole grain carbs can promote serotonin production, thus increasing mood. Just choose whole, unprocessed, no sugar added varieties such as oats, brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa.
3. Omega-3’s: We don’t make this essential fatty acid in our bodies so we need to get it from food. The best source is ground flax seed or flax seed oil, but you can also find it in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can buy supplements sourced from algae.
Of course, do not stop or change your medication dose without speaking to your doctor first. These foods can absolutely elevate your mood, but it is important that you have adequate support and oversight if you feel your medication treatment needs to be adjusted. The best place to start is to experiment with these types of foods and note how you feel. Keep a journal so you can track progress and what you learn about how food affects your mood. Most importantly, have fun and get your smile on!
Shawn Clavelle earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Vermont. She earned her certification in Health Coaching at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Shawn’s vast clinical experience and knowledge of the healthcare system makes her proficient at helping others design their own treatment plan through structured goal setting and continuous evaluation of progress. Using a holistic approach with a focus on nutrition, she helps uncover the obstacles to good health and provides simple options for making better lifestyle choices.