By Ana Mantica, "Eat to Beat the Blues,"March/April 2010
We’ve all turned to food after a bad day. But instead of reaching for whatever seems soothing, eat something that science shows may truly lift your spirits.
In a recent study of close to 3,500 men and women published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, those who reported eating a diet rich in whole foods in the previous year were less likely to report feeling depressed than those who ate lots of desserts, fried foods, processed meats, refined grains and high-fat dairy products. Previous studies have shown that antioxidants in fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids in fish are associated with lower risk of depression. Folate, a B vitamin found in dark green vegetables like spinach, beans and citrus, affects neurotransmitters that impact mood. It’s possible that the protective effect of the whole-food diet comes from a cumulative effect of these nutrients, says lead study author Tasnime N. Akbaraly, Ph.D.
In a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who for a year followed a very-low-carbohydrate diet—which allowed only 20 to 40 grams of carbs daily, about the amount in just 1⁄2 cup of rice plus one piece of bread—experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those assigned to a low-fat, high-carb diet that focused on low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruit and beans. Researchers suspect that carbs promote the production of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical. Also, the challenge of following such a restrictive low-carb diet for a full year may have negatively impacted mood, says study author Grant D. Brinkworth, Ph.D.
Eating dark chocolate (1.4 ounces of it, the amount pictured) every day for two weeks reduced stress hormones, including cortisol, in people who were highly stressed, a study done at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland recently found. “Polyphenols (antioxidants) in chocolate, and also in fruits and vegetables, may have contributed to the changes [in stress] in this study,” explains Douglas G. Mashek, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. Psst: Be sure to account for the 235 calories that 1.4 ounces of chocolate delivers—or you may be stressed to see extra pounds creeping on.