Food for your mood

By Polly Rea

Food for your mood
What you put into your body may be having a significant effect on your mental health. MiNDFOOD looks at foods we can eat to prevent or alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression, and provides recipes to help up your intake.

Anxiety and depression are two of the most commonly medicated conditions, making up a large portion of today’s prescribed pharmaceutical drugs.

Anxiety is a feeling that something bad is going to happen. The result of an overactive adrenal gland, anxiety leaves a person in the fight or flight mode for prolonged periods of time. This produces the feeling of being “on edge”, due to the anticipation of having to respond to a perceived threat. Anxiety may be experienced in different scenarios, for example socially or professionally. A condition named anxiety disorder may be clinically diagnosed; however, it is possible to experience occasional anxiety without having the full disorder.

Given modern day stresses, it is not surprising our adrenal glands are working overtime. If they are constantly producing and releasing stress hormones into our bloodstream, we will be in a constant state of stress. These hormones increase heart rate and blood pressure and can lead to heart palpitations and many other cardiovascular conditions. Diet and lifestyle play a large role in influencing the function of the adrenal glands and therefore the management of anxiety.

Depression may be experienced for a known reason, such as the loss of a loved one. This leaves a person feeling depressed for a short period of time and the feeling is often relative to the loss. Chronic depression is much more complex, often with no identifiable reason for its cause. In this case, there appear to be many underlying factors involved.

An imbalance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers between neurons and other cells), nutrient deficiencies and systemic inflammation have all been linked to depression. The neurotransmitter serotonin contributes to our feeling of wellbeing and happiness and is seen in low amounts in depression. Since most of the body’s serotonin lies within cells of the digestive tract, it is not surprising that the state of a person’s digestive system can greatly influence their state. Nutrition and lifestyle therefore may play a role in this condition also.

B vitamins are useful in managing both conditions, however caution needs to be exercised with their use in anxiety due to their potentially stimulating effect. It is always recommended to take a complex B vitamin rather than isolated ones unless under practitioner guidance. This will ensure you don’t deplete your body of other B vitamins, as certain B vitamins are required to utilise others.

Omega 3 essential fatty acids are important as they allow for healthy nerve function which is compromised in both of these conditions. They help form the myelin sheath which coats nerve cells, allowing for optimal nerve cell communication.

Vitamin C is used up quickly when our body is in a constant state of stress or anxiety, so it’s important to replace the loss of this vitamin. Low vitamin C levels have also been linked to mild depression.

Zinc is an important mineral to consider in order to maintain a strong immune system, as overstimulated adrenal glands leave us less able to fight infection. Zinc also plays a large role in the production of neurotransmitters and so is crucial in maintaining optimal levels of serotonin.

Magnesium is an electrolyte that can become depleted through exercise or stress. It plays a role in the uptake of serotonin into cells and can be useful in treating depression.

Liquorice and ginseng support healthy adrenal function and can be enjoyed as herbal teas. Caution should be taken with ginseng as it can overstimulate adrenal glands and so should be taken in small amounts and under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. Meanwhile, St John’s Wort is valuable in managing depression; it will, however, interact with pharmaceutical medication, so always consult your health practitioner.

In the case of anxiety, it is important to reduce all stimulants in the diet including caffeine and sugar. Any known allergens such as nuts, soy, gluten and dairy should be removed completely. If an overgrowth of candida is a problem then avoiding foods that are thought to aggravate this, such as yeast and mushrooms, is also recommended. These foods will contribute to systemic inflammation and so can also contribute to a depressed state.


Oats are restorative to the nervous system, providing good levels of B vitamins. Enjoy a bowl for breakfast to keep you calm throughout the day. Oat milk can be used as an alternative to dairy.

Try peanut butter overnight oats & home-made granola crunch to get the best start to your day.

Peanut Butter Overnight Oats & Home-Made Granola Crunch
Photography by Nassima Rothacker

Oily fish

Salmon, sardines and mackerel are all high in omega 3 oils and will restore integrity to an overworked nervous system. They make a perfect light lunch when accompanied by a fresh crunchy salad.

Here are 13 salmon recipes to add to your weekly menu.

Salmon with Spring Pickled Salad


Nuts and seeds

Create different combinations for daily snacks by mixing almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds to boost your essential fatty acid intake.

Spice up your snack selection with this recipe for Sichuan pepper nut mix.

Sichuan Pepper & Five Spice Nut Mix Recipe

Herbal tea

Replace coffee or black tea with herbal tea. Liquorice, chamomile and passionflower  are good for anxiety, but passionflower may be too sedating for use in depression so stick to liquorice (or cinnamon) for energy.

Find out the best way to make a cup of tea here.

health benefits of sage


Turkey (along with some other meats) is a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin. Eating lots of turkey is thought to aid the production of serotonin.

We think you’ll love this poached turkey salad with sesame dressing recipe.

Poached Turkey Salad with Sesame Dressing


Eggs provide a valuable supply of protein for energy as well as good levels of tryptophan. They also provide choline for healthy nerve and brain function. Try poached eggs and avocado on toast for breakfast.

Rye Toast with Poached Free-Range Eggs, Wilted Spinach, Avocado & Sprouts



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