Food and Mood: Part 4

Joleen Wilson - Dietary Manager

            Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS

Written by Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS, Dietitian for Pathway to Eating Disorders Treatment at Brookhaven Hospital

In the previous blogs in this series, I discussed the role that carbohydrates, protein, and B-vitamins play in our mental wellness.  I’d like to conclude with discussion about some other important nutrients that affect our mood.

Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain nerve cells and balance dopamine and serotonin.  Studies show that people who ate fish less than once/week were 31% more likely to feel depressed; some studies show up to a 50% reduction in clinical depression symptoms with omega 3 consumption.  Sources include halibut, herring, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna.  Plant based sources include flax, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.  As there are many people who dislike fish, you have the option of supplementing with Omega 3 fatty acids.  Just make sure to ask your doctor if this is appropriate, as omega-3’s may thin the blood and potentiate the effects of medications like aspirin and blood thinners.

Vitamin D is a hot topic in the literature and it’s been shown that low levels may contribute to depression.  You can get all the vitamin D you need by being exposing your skin on arms and legs in the sun for about 20 minutes during the spring and summer months.  If you’re like most people and can’t get outside for that length of time daily OR it is wintertime, you must obtain your vitamin D from a LIMITED list of foods.  Sources include salmon, tuna, milk, pork, eggs, and liver.  The simple fact that this list of foods does not entice most people is the reason we see so much vitamin D deficiency in this country.  You can supplement with vitamin D, but make sure to consult with your doctor about appropriate dosages and possibly a blood test to check your active vitamin D3 levels.  Taking too much vitamin D can be toxic as it is a fat soluble vitamin and is stored in the liver.

Last but not least, I wanted to touch on caffeine.  Though caffeine is not something that’s supposed to promote mental wellness, it can often deter from it.  Caffeine may aggravate depression by lower serotonin levels by decreasing tryptophan’s ability to convert to serotonin.  Just when you thought caffeine always made you happy, think again!  Too much caffeine is not a good thing.  Try to limit your intake of caffeine to 300 mg/day, which is the upper limit recommended for pregnancy.  Caffeine can cause or worsen a variety of symptoms including irritability, insomnia, and anxiety.  It may also have adverse reaction with some medications.  A University of South Alabama study found that 80% of depressed patients found relief after eliminating sugar and caffeine from their diets.

I am one to always look at the positive effects of a nutrient or, in this case, a compound.  Caffeine has several benefits.  It’s been shown that drinking 1-2 cups of coffee per day can help decrease risk of cardiovascular disease.  Also, caffeine gets us up and moving!  Remember to rehydrate with equal amounts of a non-caffeinated beverage.

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