By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Due to the colder months looming over for many countries, this time of the year means less natural light. Some people are extra sensitive to less light and can be prone to suffering with seasonal affected disorder (SAD). For these people the reduction in natural light suppresses dopamine and serotonin production. It is important to get as much natural light as possible during the day directly on the skin and without sunglasses. Stay in more lit up areas in your living areas, lighten your house up with brighter colours and buy light bulbs that are full spectrum. And of course, eat healthy, mood-boosting foods.
When the days get shorter, and the sun sets earlier, people might feel more upset, stressed and depressed. When that happens, often the first go-to food is sugar and highly refined processed foods. Unfortunately, these foods won’t help. They will leave you feeling more fatigued, bloated, depressed and stressed.
They are in fact the WORST foods to eat! These foods will cause your blood sugars to plummet thus causing your mood and energy levels to crash with them.
Problems with Eating the Wrong Foods
When we consume junk food when stressed or depressed it gives us a sense of satisfaction immediately due to varying content factors such as sugar, salt and high processed fats.
The science behind junk food supports mood elevation only for a split second so you continue going back for more thus overeating. Unfortunately these foods will not only depress your mood within a very short time frame (within 30 mins) but they will cause a range of long-term health conditions related to excess weight, inflammation and fatigue.
When we eat, dopamine levels (the brain’s feel good chemical supporting feelings of well-being and pleasure, helps control energy levels, motivation and supports brain and heart health) are stimulated by the act of eating, this is an age-old reward system that rewards us for eating to ensure our survival.
When we eat processed food it stimulates a unnatural massive release of dopamine which shares the same biological basis as addiction to drugs of abuse. This is the very effect that people are after when they use food for emotional comfort. When people repeatedly do something that releases dopamine in the reward system, the dopamine receptors will start to down-regulate thus causing a tolerance. Once this occurs the person then needs to continue to eat more and more to gain the dopamine effect. This then causes an addictive spiral, as they gain more weight and they have to eat more to get that hit they then then become fat, sick and nearly dead.
Using the wrong foods for emotional comfort can create an unhealthy addictive craving cycle. It is so important to understand that certain healthy foods support the production of healthy happy hormones in the long-term without the craving cycle.
The Foods that Help Boost Your Mood
Particularly walnuts that are high in omega 3 fats which supports healthy hormone production and brazil nuts which are high in selenium. Studies show that low selenium levels are associated with depression and just 3 brazil nuts a few times a week improved mood. Omega 3 deficiency symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, memory decline, and depression. Other sources of omega 3’s are chia seeds, flaxseeds and oily fish.
I’m suggesting the healthier unprocessed choices, the darker the chocolate the better. This boosts serotonin and endorphins. Here is more on healthy chocolate!
Green, white or black contains theanine and polyphenols which support healthy serotonin production. Tea also benefits weight loss and bone health.
Saffron has been shown in some small studies to be more effective at lifting depression than a placebo and were also found to be as effective as Prozac.
Spinach (and other leafy greens)
These will help keep your Vitamin B levels up thus supporting serotonin and dopamine production. They are also a rich source of calcium, iron and magnesium, minerals for calm, relaxation and energy,
Beets & Beet Leaves
Beets and their leaves contains tyrosine and B vitamins to support dopamine and serotonin production.
Consume these before you go to bed, you’ll wake in a better mood due to enhanced sleep. Tart cherries are rich in a hormone called melatonin, which acts as a natural sleep aid by improving quality of sleep.
Trytophan boosting foods require carbohydrates to aid in the absorption of tryptophan through the blood brain barrier while vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into the mood-lifting hormone serotonin. Other tryptophan boosting foods – sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, oats, spirulina, watercress, asparagus, mushrooms, chicory, chia seeds, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, split peas, quinoa and dates.
A daily fitness routine deserves a special mention here – exercise stimulates your feel good hormones and is said to be more effective than most anti-depressants. Exercise reduces cravings, supports healthy blood sugar balance, supports healthy weight loss and enhances feelings of well-being!
Also here is a list of the Top 5 Foods to Help Fight Depression!
Foods to avoid: Alcohol, sugar and processed foods. These foods give you a quick pick me up but will shortly leave you tired, moody and down!