We all have foods we turn to when life starts getting a bit out of control: a business meeting didn’t go as well as you’d like – a Tim Tam in the office kitchen; deadline is looming and you’re nowhere near where you’d like to be – doughnut time; bills are piling up and funds are going down – a quick-fix burger. There are way too many reasons to get stressed and anxious, and often we turn to food for solace. But a relatively new area of research and therapy, nutritional psychology, is taking that concept and giving us something more: “good mood food” – the things we can eat to help us stay happy when anxiety, stress and even depression threaten to overtake us.
Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre, which conducts research into the connection between diet and mental health, has recently done a trial to assess whether improving diet quality can treat clinical depression. Published in January this year, the study recruited adults with a major depressive disorder who were then randomly assigned to receive either social support, which is known to be helpful for people with depression, or support from a clinical dietitian, over a three-month period.
The dietary group received information and assistance to improve the quality of their current diets, with a focus on increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts, while reducing their consumption of unhealthy choices, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast food, processed meats and sugary drinks. At the end of the trial, a third of those in the dietary support group met criteria for remission of major depression, compared to eight per cent of those in the social support group.
“These results were not explained by changes in physical activity or body weight, but were closely related to the extent of dietary change,” says Professor Felice Jacka, director of the Food and Mood Centre. “Those who adhered more closely to the dietary programme experienced the greatest benefit to their depression symptoms.”
In the Mood
If you’re depressed, lifestyle changes such as diet need to be considered alongside therapy and medication, but if you are just dealing with moments of anxiety and high stress, looking at your diet and incorporating more good mood foods can potentially stop these negative feelings reaching a state that can be overwhelming.
A balanced diet is going to give you the energy to keep up with the busyness of your life. Stock up on foods that will help you generate the neurotransmitters that impact on your mood, such as serotonin, which helps regulate feelings of anxiety. To give it a go, ensure the Mood boosters listed at right are your menu.
If stress and anxiety are impacting you, speak to your GP or free call or text 1737 to talk to (or text with) a trained counsellor, 24 hours a day.
- Almonds: Raises magnesium levels, which can ease anxiety – 20 nuts provide 20% of daily intake.
- Chamomile tea: Pouring a cuppa is relaxing, but choose chamomile for its mood-lifting abilities.
- Asparagus: Contains folic acid, a B vitamin that studies suggest helps lower anxiousness.
- Kiwifruit: Eat it to lower cortisol, the hormone released when stressed.
- Cheese: Several types, particularly cottage cheese, contain a precursor of serotonin (regulates anxiety).
Smart Tip: Are you feeling exhausted, cranky or unable to concentrate? You might be “hangry” but you could also be dehydrated, so fill up your water bottle.
Check out our delicious comfort food recipes.