By Florencia Tagliavini, the NutraMilk Nutritionist.
Overeating when stressed is pretty common- most of us have found ourselves digging into an ice cream container or a box of chocolates when we have been down, so you can see how there is a connection between food and mood. But, can the connection go the other way? Can the foods we eat positively influence our mood or maybe even help with depression?
There is consistent evidence for a Mediterranean-style dietary pattern and lower risk of depression. One study showed depression scores were significantly lower among nut consumers and particularly walnut consumers as compared to non-nut consumers. There is still a lot to learn and research but there is a clear connection between mood and food.
Of course, the whole diet is important. There is no one single magic nutrient that will automatically make you happy, rather the answer is in eating a healthy diet which includes staying away from foods that make you feel worse, maintaining a healthy gut flora, and incorporating certain nutrients that have been shown to improve mood.
Nutrients provide the biological building blocks for neurotransmitters — the chemicals in your brain that deeply affect how you think and feel. When you aren’t eating enough vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, and related nutrients found in plants — you can’t make adequate mood-enhancing transmitters. So, eating certain foods that include these nutrients can affect your mood and enhance a persons wellbeing in the context of a healthy diet.
Nuts and Seeds are some of these foods!
Nuts and seeds are a powerhouse of many valuable nutrients such as selenium, copper, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins, fatty acids, antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and more. For example, brazil nuts are a potent source of selenium, a crucial mineral that affects mood. Low dietary selenium has been shown to increase the risk of depression. Walnuts are a good source of anti-inflammatory omega 3´s that are linked to lower risk of depression and certain mental diseases such as dementia. Pumpkin seeds are a source of the amino acid, tryptophan which is used to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Cashews contain the highest amount of zinc and copper than any other nut. Some research shows that people with the worst depression have low amounts of zinc, which has been used to treat mood disorders. Pistachios are an excellent source of B6 vitamin which is needed to make mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin. Studies have shown that B6 deficiency can lead to depression. Almonds are a high dietary source of magnesium which was the first medically known substance used to treat depression.
Nuts and seeds, among other nutrient-dense foods can definitely help beat the blues and are easy to incorporate in your diet because they are so versatile. Try a nut or seed milk, a nut or seed butter on their own or as an ingredient in a variety of preparations and dishes.