Feeling down once in a while is a natural part of life's ups and downs. But there are ways to adjust your diet to help stabilize your mood. Susan Moores, registered dietitian, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, and nutrition consultant in St. Paul, Minnesota, says eating regular meals is vital to keeping your moods balanced. "It's important to keep your energy level up by not skipping meals, otherwise your serotonin level, a chemical in the brain that produces calmness, could change."
Choosing a healthy variety of food and not just focusing on one nutrient is crucial, says Moores. "When people eat better they feel better, and there is a definite role for a healthful diet when someone is suffering from depression. Good nutrition won't pull you out of depression, but it is a piece of the puzzle for managing depression." Moore also cautions that popular low-carbohydrate diets may have a negative impact on people's brains.
"Carbohydrates are linked to serotonin production and lack of carbohydrates may cause changes in mood," she says. Here, a list of foods that contain nutrients that might help stabilize your mood.
Note: If you're dealing with prolonged depression, you may benefit from therapy and/or medication. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon and mackerel are great dinner options no matter what your health concern. There is some research that shows a link between lack of omega-3 fatty acids and depression, says Moores. Omega-3 fatty acids also help prevent heart disease and stroke and may help prevent some cancers. Plus, salmon contains selenium, an important antioxidant mineral. Be sure to choose wild salmon at the grocery store or local fish market, since it contains more omegas than farmed (often called Atlantic) salmon.
Recommended Serving Size: Fresh 3.5-ounce salmon fillet, 180 calories Fresh 3.5-ounce mackerel fillet, 220 calories
Some studies have shown that people who suffer from depression also have lower levels of the antioxidant vitamin E, according to Moores. So, though oil is high in fat and should be consumed in strict moderation, canola oil is rich in vitamin E. (The USDA recommends consuming no more than 6 teaspoons, or 24 grams, of oils each day.) Try substituting canola oil for vegetable oil when you're sauteing that salmon for a healthy dinner.
Recommended Serving Size: Six teaspoons (2 tablespoons), 225 calories
Dark green vegetables like spinach and peas are high in folate, which may help stabilize your mood because it's needed to help make serotonin. Plus, peas are a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Keep in mind that canned peas have diminished nutrients, so try to use fresh or frozen peas whenever you can. For a nutrition boost, add peas to your tuna salad, or build your dinner salad with spinach instead of lettuce.
Recommended Serving Size: Raw, shelled scant 2/3 cup of fresh peas, 83 calories Raw, chopped scant 2 cups of spinach, 25 calories
Also high in folate these low fat, high-protein legumes are a nutritious alternative for people who don't eat meat, and a delicious addition to any diet. Chickpeas are rich in fiber, iron, and vitamin E. For a simple snack, combine a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas with some minced garlic, fresh lemon juice, and olive or canola oil in your blender or food processor. Add salt, pepper and other spices as you wish. The resulting hummus makes a healthy and hearty vegetable dip.
Recommended Serving Size: 1/4 cup fresh, 160 calories
Chicken and turkey are both rich in vitamin B6, which plays a role in serotonin production in the body. They are both a good source of selenium and other vitamins and minerals, too. Remember, eating chicken with the skin increases the fat content considerably.
Recommended Serving Size: Boneless, skinless half chicken breast, 106 calories 3.5 ounces light meat, roasted turkey, 153 calories
Originally published on BHG.com, January 2005.