Depression occurs due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Our nerves communicate with each other through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Food has a direct relation to our mood. Sometimes eating a block of chocolate can lift our mood or for some people even eating a packet of chips satisfies our cravings.
Often food can be an elixir for uplifting mood. So, let us look at some specific foods which can help ease our anxiety and depression.
Are there any drinks to boost our mood?
Saffron is a wonder spice when it comes to controlling anxiety. Saffron is a spice used since our ancient culture. This spice helps in dropping stress hormones. If you are suffering from anxiety or low mood, soak 2-3 strands of saffron for 2-3 hours in a glass of water and drink one cup a day.
One can also make a cup of saffron tea with hot water and add some almonds to boost tryptophan – which releases happy hormones. Chamomile tea helps in reducing stress levels. Probiotics like lassi, buttermilk, smoothies, kombucha also help in relaxing. Black coffee also helps but do not consume more than 3 cups a day.
Is there any link between gut health and mental health?
Yes, certainly. Our central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract communicate through the gut-brain axis. It is bi-directional. There is evidence that gut bacteria are the source of a number of neuroactive and immunocompetent substances, which shape the structure and function of the brain which controls emotions, cognition, and physical activity. Alterations of the gut microbiome have been associated with mood and depressive disorders.
What are definite 'no foods' if you have regular feelings of low?
Avoid fried foods including fried meat and meat products where possible. Arachidonic acid is a type of fat released non-vegetarian foods are prepared, this fat has shown to adversely impact our mental health as it also acts inflammation to our nerves.
Our bodies produce sufficient of this acid. Another chemical which tops the list is Aspartame or any artificial sweetener. Artificial sweeteners are not only present in our frizzy drinks or soft drinks but also in cereals, chewing gums, chocolates and desserts. Avoid artificial sweeteners.
Are there any essential oils or herbs?
Essential oils like sandalwood, cinnamon oil, ylang-ylang oil, geranium, orange oil, rose oil work wonders. Herbs like tulsi, evening primrose, sandalwood work really well in relaxing.
Can you name some easy dishes which can help?
Improving gut health is key to feeling good. Fermented foods like dhokla, khandvi, kimchi salad, pakha rice (Orissa), kulu (Andhra dish), gundruk (north India), dosa, idli (south India) are great for probiotics. Incorporate mood uplifting foods like banana, mangoes, edible seeds like banana milkshakes, mango lassi. Incorporate Omega 3 rich dishes like baked salmon, chia pudding, flaxseed laddoo.
What are the nutrients you should consider if you have feelings of low?
Add some carotenoids, Lycopene is a compound in tomatoes, this gives a red colour to tomatoes, If you eat tomatoes daily, research shows that it can just half the rate of depression within a week. And yes, it is summers don't forget the powder of mangoes. If your diet is low in folate, like greens and beans it can also trigger depression. Use folates like greens and beans.
I know this is summers and finding greens doesn't seem possible, so please use wheatgrass, moringa, amla powder about 1 tablespoon a day with either water or just add them to your smoothies or lassis or curd.
Green leafy vegetables are a rich source of folate which can support mental health and our mood. Foods rich in tryptophan like banana, cherries, cheese, milk, pineapple, kiwi fruits work wonders. Also, have omega 3 rich foods like salmon, flaxseed powder, chia seeds, walnuts.
Are there any lifestyle hacks we can choose?
Exercise, do some yoga and pranayama, do laughing yoga and soak up in the sun to rise your vitamin d levels. People are happier when they eat healthy foods, so make healthy choices when you have your meals. Indulge in activities which make you happy whether listening to music or reading a self-help book. Do not challenge yourself beyond your limit, know your comfort zone, sometimes simply doing nothing and daydreaming is a great way to relax.
Soaking feet in the hot tub with salt and essential oils and massaging sole of your feet with warm sesame oil really helps.
What is the link between sugar intake and mood?
Carbohydrates including sugars help transport tryptophan (an amino acid which transports happy hormones to the brain). Our happy hormone serotonin, cannot get to your brain without the help of an amino acid tryptophan.
The best way out to this solution is to consume seeds like pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, chia seeds, watermelon seeds. That is why people with high rates of depression or anxiety should avoid any high protein no carbohydrate diet or any fad diet.
Is there any wonder spice which acts as mood uplifters?
Most of the spices are anti-inflammatories however saffron, vanilla, cloves, oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg have shown a significant difference in reducing monoamine oxidase enzyme activity safely. Eating plant-based diets reduce symptoms of depression considerably.
(About the author: This is a guest article by Swati Bathwal, an accredited practising Dietitian Nutritionist and Public Health Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, an accredited Anthropometrist and a registered Yoga Teacher.)