First established in 2005, Blue Monday, which falls on the third Monday of each January, is said to be the most depressing day of the year. The theory is that the winter weather, short daylight hours, and huge post-Christmas credit card bills all contribute to the blues. It may also be when our new year’s resolution fall by the wayside. Blue Monday this year is on January 17th.
Of course, depression does not last for 24 hours and it can be a serious condition. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that manifests during the darker winter months. Symptoms may include persistent low mood, feelings of worthlessness, lethargy, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, irritability, inability to concentrate, and a change in sleeping patterns or appetite. It is best to start treating SAD before symptoms begin if you know you are susceptible.
Here we’ll look at how we can eat to support our mental health as well as some lifestyle tips and supplement ideas.
Eating for Mental Health
There is growing evidence for the relationship between nutritional deficiencies, diet quality and mental health (1).
Mediterranean Diet - negatively correlated with chronic illness and depressive symptoms (2,3). The diet is based on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, fish, white meats, and olive oil. It may include moderate consumption of fermented dairy products and a low intake of red meat, and wine.
Chocolate - you may be delighted and unsurprised to learn that polyphenols in chocolate have a positive effect on mood (4).
Anti-inflammatory Diet - High levels of inflammation are associated with an increased risk of depression. Anti-inflammatory foods that are associated with a lower risk of depression include olive oil, fish, nuts, fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils.
Breakfast - A study into student health in 28 countries found that skipping breakfast was associated with depression, loneliness, sleep problems and poor academic performance (5,6).
Meat - A systematic review found that there was a significant association between red and processed meat intake and risk of depression (7).
Ultra-Processed and High Calorie Foods - Consumption of sweetened drinks, sugary foods, fried foods, processed meats, baked products and ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of depression.
The Microbiome - The health of our microbiome affects every aspect of our health including mood and behaviour. To increase the diversity of organisms in the gut eat a wide range of plant foods and include small amounts of fermented foods (8,9) such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tamari, kimchi and kombucha.
Support Serotonin and Tryptophan - Serotonin plays an important role in mood and sleep. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin. Eating a tryptophan rich diet may help those who are susceptible to depression (10,11).Tryptophan needs vitamin B6 to be converted into serotonin, and insulin to cross the blood brain barrier. Tryptophan is found in chickpeas, chicken, turkey, eggs, cacao, tahini, pumpkin seeds, rice, bananas, tofu and oats.
Keep blood sugar stable – having protein and fibre with each meal helps to avoid the blood sugar roller-coaster and dips in mood.
Other than dietary changes certain lifestyle habits can lift the mood including exercise, gardening, being in nature, being with other people and light therapy using a full spectrum light.
Nutrients for Mental Health
The following nutrients may help help to improve mood and motivation (12):
- Tom Oliver’s B Complex – needed to convert carbohydrates from food into Vitamin B5 plays a role in cortisol production. Vitamin B6 is needed to make several neurotransmitters that can counteract the effects of adrenaline.
- Tom Oliver’s Vitamin C – the adrenal glands have a high need for vitamin C which is depleted by stress.
- Tom Oliver’s Vitamin D3 + K2 – evidence suggests an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression (13,14).
- Tom Oliver’s Curcumin - exhibits a range of beneficial properties including being an antidepressant. It’s thought to work through diverse mechanisms including those associated with serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and glutamate, neurotransmitters, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, inflammation and, oxidative stress (15).
- Tom Oliver’s Omega 3 Oils - A systematic review of research into the effect of omega 3 fats on depression found a small-to-modest, beneficial effect of omega 3 fats on symptoms of depression compared to placebo (16).
- Tom Oliver’s Protein Powders – protein helps to keep blood sugar levels stable which in turn stabilises mood and energy.
- Tom Oliver’s Zinc – has a beneficial effect on neurotransmitters involved in depression.