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Last week I posted a general post about mental health/depression and ways to take control of it. This week, I want to share a little more on the diet aspect of my last post.
**It is important to note that I am not a medical professional. The information I am providing is not an absolute cure for any mental health issue. The information in this post is solely my opinion based on research I have conducted on my own. I share this information because I believe in making informed decisions and I believe In food as medicine. Additionally, I have noticed an impact of my diet choices on my own mental health. Please talk with your physician/mental health professional before trying any of this for yourself.”
Okay! Now that that is all out-of-the-way…
Depression is made up of a number of factors in the brain and body. No one, including experts, fully understands the biochemical causes of depression. However, as someone who often struggles with it, I’ve come to some conclusions based on my own experience. Changes in levels of neurochemicals, hormonal imbalance, and excess stress are all factors in developing depression.
Have you noticed that depression and mental health issues continue to rise in the last few years? I think that the changes in society have become a major factor in so many people developing depression. Kids and teens today continue to have more and more responsibility put on them. Whether it be helping raise siblings or support the family financially, the pressure to excel in sports/activities and school, or even just the pressure to be socially accepted… Kids today are facing more than they ever have. Adults are dealing with it too! Financial burdens, lack of work-life balance, the pressures to stay afloat in a shaky economy are devastating.
I believe too, that the overwhelming presence of news has shifted our brains. We now focus predominantly on material wealth. And in the meanwhile, our society is experiencing a major breakdown of the nuclear family, extended family, and the lack of community. I think we’ve lost sight of what happiness is. And because of that, our brains have less to be happy about, therefore producing less and less happy chemicals. But there are ways to fight back!
Food can assist your body in creating some of the happy chemicals it needs to fight depression. Unfortunately, healing depression isn’t as simple as increasing the level of any one chemical in your brain. While that may be one part of the solution, it’s much more complicated than that. All of the chemicals interact with each other and affect different bodily systems. That said, it’s possible to notice a change by earing a well-rounded diet, giving the brain a boost. Before I explain the foods to be eating, let’s discuss some of the “happy chemicals”. They are serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins.
Serotonin – Serotonin is the “Happy Neurotransmitter”. Low serotonin effects depression and mood as well as a host of other mental and physical issues. The more serotonin your body creates, the higher the chance of reception in the brain. Serotonin improves willpower, motivation, and mood. You can boost serotonin in your body with diet, exercise, positive thinking, and laughing, to name a few.
Dopamine – Dopamine is the “Motivation/Pleasure Neurotransmitter”. Low levels of dopamine can lead to depression. Anxiety, fatigue, motivation, and the ability to get excited about anything are also symptoms. You can boost dopamine in your body with sleep, exercise, yoga, sunlight, and diet.
Norepinephrine – Norepinephrine is the “Brain Food”. Low norepinephrine leads to a lack of focus, ADHD, increased stress, and an inability to think clearly. Additionally, high levels of norepinephrine can be a contributing factor to anxiety.
Endorphins – As Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make people happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” And while she is right, your brain can also produce endorphins from foods too!
“Mood Foods”, are foods that support the body and releasing the aforementioned happy chemicals in the brain. As I briefly mentioned in last weeks post, stick with whole foods and steer clear of too many processed ingredients. Too many processed sugars provide what I like to explain as short intense releases of dopamine. These releases are not sustainable and, are more likely to cause more low moments in your mental health and highs. It’s like putting regular fuel in a diesel engine. The car still goes, but the engine gets all sorts of screwed up!
In order to naturally produce these chemicals, it is important to choose foods that are high antioxidant foods, proteins that contain tryptophan and tyrosine, B vitamins, Selenium, smart carbs, and finally, vitamin D. So, where can you find them? Check out the picture below for the nutrients, with a few food suggestions too!
With such a variety of foods, putting them all together in a meal is easy! How about a Kale salad that’s loaded with strawberries, blueberries, and nuts? Or a breakfast smoothie with banana, spinach, grapefruit, and pineapple? Or a shrimp fajita taco salad? What kind of meals can you think of that incorporate a bunch of these mood foods?
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