FOOD FOR THOUGHT

CANA­DIAN LIV­ING DE­CEM­BER 2018 Some foods are es­pe­cially rich in mood-boost­ing nu­tri­ents that can help sup­port brain func­tion, con­tribute to a sta­ble mood and set you on the right path for over­all good health. TEXT STACEY STEIN

Canadian Living - - Contents -

Nu­tri­ent-rich foods that’ll help boost your mood

The prom­ise of a quick pick-me-up by in­dulging in our favourite dessert is hard to re­sist when we’re feel­ing down.

But ig­nor­ing the siren call of sweets is ex­actly what you should be do­ing when you’re feel­ing that way, say ex­perts. In­stead, opt for a mood­el­e­vat­ing bowl of blue­berries or a hand­ful of wal­nuts, both packed with nu­tri­ents that help pro­mote men­tal well-be­ing.

“The brain needs 50 dif­fer­ent nu­tri­ents to func­tion,” says Christina Seely, a clin­i­cal di­eti­tian at the Park­wood In­sti­tute for Men­tal Health Care in Lon­don, Ont. “A de­fi­ciency in any nu­tri­ent can im­pact brain func­tion and men­tal health.” Con­sid­er­ing that stud­ies re­port that diet can re­duce the preva­lence of de­pres­sion by up to 40 per­cent, it’s worth fu­elling our bod­ies prop­erly to op­ti­mize our brains while keep­ing stress, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion at bay. Here’s a look at some key mood-en­hanc­ing nu­tri­ents and how to in­cor­po­rate them into your diet.

Mag­ne­sium

Ac­cord­ing to Van­cou­ver-based regis­tered di­eti­tian De­siree Nielsen, ev­i­dence sug­gests that a diet low in mag­ne­sium is as­so­ci­ated with in­creased anx­ious be­hav­iour. “Mag­ne­sium helps re­lax the mus­cles, in­clud­ing blood ves­sels, help­ing lower blood pres­sure, which nat­u­rally im­proves blood flow to the brain,” says Nielsen, adding that many peo­ple tend to be de­fi­cient in this min­eral. Mag­ne­sium also stim­u­lates gamma-aminobu­tyric acid (GABA) re­cep­tors (GABA is a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter that eases anx­i­ety and ner­vous­ness).

Mag­ne­sium is found in legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy prod­ucts. One of Nielsen’s favourite sources is pump­kin seeds; a quar­ter cup comes close to meet­ing a woman’s needs for the day. Other mag­ne­sium-rich foods in­clude spinach, quinoa, black beans and chick­peas. Tak­ing a sup­ple­ment may seem like an easy way to get this min­eral, but Nielsen rec­om­mends whole foods in­stead. “When you eat some­thing in its whole-food con­text, you get more out of it; for ex­am­ple, pump­kin seeds also have es­sen­tial fats and other min­er­als like zinc, which is im­por­tant for nerve sig­nalling in the brain,” she says.

Vi­ta­min D

Pop­u­la­tion stud­ies re­veal that lower vi­ta­min D lev­els are pre­sent in peo­ple with men­tal health con­di­tions, such as de­pres­sion, schizophre­nia and cog­ni­tive de­cline, says Seely. Re­searchers are ex­plor­ing a pos­si­ble link, she says: “Sui­cide rates peak in early spring, when vi­ta­min D lev­els are at their low­est, un­less you live near the equa­tor.” The av­er­age daily diet pro­vides about 200 in­ter­na­tional units (IU) of vi­ta­min D, but we need 1,000 IU to main­tain op­ti­mal lev­els. “There are higher rates of sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der in north­ern-lat­i­tude coun­tries,” says Seely; she be­lieves that this may in­di­cate how a lack of vi­ta­min D con­trib­utes to de­pres­sion. Be­cause we can’t man­u­fac­ture enough vi­ta­min D from the sun year-round and there’s a lim­ited sup­ply in food (in­clud­ing eggs, some dairy prod­ucts, sal­mon, cod, sar­dines and mack­erel), Seely rec­om­mends tak­ing a sup­ple­ment with 1,000 IU.

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B vi­ta­mins

B vi­ta­mins, es­pe­cially B6, B12 and fo­late, are crit­i­cal for the health of the ner­vous sys­tem, and any de­fi­cien­cies may im­pact men­tal well-be­ing, says Nielsen.

Vi­ta­min B6, in par­tic­u­lar, is re­quired for the pro­duc­tion of GABA, which has been shown to play a prom­i­nent role in the brain’s abil­ity to con­trol stress, a key fac­tor when it comes to sus­cep­ti­bil­ity for mood dis­or­ders. Mean­while, stud­ies have found low lev­els of vi­ta­min B12 and fo­late in de­pres­sive pa­tients. Vi­ta­min B12 is found only in an­i­mal foods or for­ti­fied plant-based al­ter­na­tives.

Nielsen cau­tions against solely re­ly­ing on sup­ple­ments for your daily dose. “Stud­ies on sup­ple­ment­ing B vi­ta­mins have shown mixed re­sults,” she says. In­stead, look to foods such as beans, legumes (such as chick­peas) and leafy greens for your fix of B6 and fo­late.

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