Did you know that one in five Australians will suffer from a mental illness in any given year? The most common types are depression, anxiety or substance use disorders.
Depression is just one type of mental illness that may be helped by a number of lifestyle changes. Getting more sleep, making time to do exercise that you enjoy, and a well balanced diet may help manage symptoms.
There are certain foods that can be included in your diet to maximise your chances of happy brain chemistry (and help improve many symptoms of depression). Check out the list below to see what these happy brain chemicals are and what foods you can find them in.
- Omega 3 Fats: These fats are vital for your brain to build and repair its cells, as well as the receptor sites for certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin. On top of that, omega 3 fats play a role in maintaining great heart health. You can find them in foods such as salmon, mackerel, oysters, flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts. If you decide to take a fish oil supplement, then ensure your supplement is highly purified and filtered, and contains both DHA and EPA.
- B Vitamins:As a group, B vitamins are vital for many aspects of health, however B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B9 (folic acid) are particularly great anti-stress nutrients. B vitamins can be found in fish, chicken and turkey, liver, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, dried fruit, beans, lentils and asparagus.
- Tryptophan:Tryptophan is a vital building block for serotonin and melatonin – two important neurotransmitters in the brain and body. Low tryptophan levels have been associated with low serotonin and can impact mood, memory and aggression levels. To get more tryptophan in your diet, try including pumpkin seeds, soybeans, parmesan cheese, white and red meats, tuna, crab, oat bran, beans, lentils and eggs.
- Carbohydrates:Eating complex carbohydrates (think wholegrains) in combination with tryptophan rich foods will help your body to convert tryptophan into serotonin. Examples of wholegrains include oat bran, wheat germ, buckwheat, brown rice and porridge oats.
- Calcium:A deficiency in calcium may make a person more prone to anxiety and moodiness. You might need to increase your calcium intake if you experience muscle cramping, lethargy, shaking, heart palpitations or depression (remember that these can also be indicative of other health concerns, so always get checked by your health care professional). Calcium can be found in dairy products (milk, yoghurt and cheese), spinach, white beans, sardines, oranges, collard greens and broccoli.
A Note About Antioxidants
Antioxidants are a group of nutrients which help the body prevent damage that can be caused by free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are produced during a variety of normal bodily functions and can contribute to cell damage, cellular ageing and cell dysfunction. The brain can be particularly vulnerable to damage from free radicals, and antioxidants such as beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E can help.
Antioxidants are commonly found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as apricots, broccoli, sweet potato, collard greens, blueberries, oranges, capsicum, tomato, nuts and seeds. Other beneficial sources of antioxidants include:
- Green Tea:Contains both antioxidants and an amino acid theanine. Theanine is known for the anti-stress benefits it provides by stimulating brain waves seen most commonly when you are in a relaxed state (alpha waves).
- Dark Chocolate:Dark chocolate can help with mood in three ways. (1) It contains cocoa, which helps boost levels of serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine- three neurotransmitters that play a vital role in your brain’s wellbeing. (2) It decreases levels of cortisol and catecholamines (stress hormones). (3) One of the flavour compounds contained in dark chocolate has a chemical structure to valproic acid – a compound that is used to help with the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder.
- Mushrooms:Mushrooms are great for mental health in two ways. They can help lower blood sugar, which can help prevent mood swings that occur due to sugar crashes AND mushrooms also help promote happy and healthy gut bacteria – remember that 90% of the serotonin produced in our body happens with healthy gut bacteria.
Remember that we are only providing general advice, and you should always seek personalised professional help.