We all know what we should be eating to keep our body in tip-top condition (even if we don't stick to the rules as often as we should do) but is it possible that what we eat can influence our minds as well as our waistlines?
With depression on the increase, it's a question that can't be ignored. Of course, to anyone who's ever been guilty of comfort eating, the idea that what you eat can change your mood isn't an unusual one. But as community dietician Deborah Vanstone points out, in the long term, gorging on chocolate will only make you more miserable.
'High sugar foods are bad for blood sugar levels. You need a decent intake over the day to keep a steady level, otherwise you just have highs and lows, and if you're depressed the lows are even lower,' she explains.
As a depressant, alcohol should also be avoided, as should caffeine which again leads to ups and downs. Complex carbohydrates like brown rice are actually the best route to a healthy blood sugar level and a stable mood.
Lesley Weber, who suffers from depression, can testify that avoiding junk and stimulants really helps. She has completely cut out coffee, chocolate and tea, as well as switching her white bread and pasta to wholewheat. It's made all the difference, 'I feel like I'm getting more energy and can start changing things in my life,' she reveals.
So with the quick-fix of a sugar rush ruled out, what foods are recommended to boost your mood?
The key ingredient is tryptophan. This amino acid is converted by the brain into the sleep hormone melatonin and a neurotransmitter called serotonin which is responsible for feelings of wellbeing.
'Serotonin and melatonin keep you calm and help you sleep. The more you have available, the calmer you'll feel,' says Vanstone.
Good sources of tryptophan are milk, lean meat and poultry - especially turkey. Essential fatty acids are also thought to play an important role in tackling depression by helping brain receptors with serotonin uptake.
With the brain being made up of 60 per cent fat, the type of fats we eat can directly affect its structure. 'We do need fats in our diet,' explains Vanstone, 'They just need to be the right ones, like those in oily fish like mackerel and salmon.'
The Feeding Minds Campaign launched by the Mental Health Foundation to increase the importance of diet in the treatment of mental health suggested certain vitamins and minerals can help too. Vitamin B6, found in wholegrain and bananas; vitamin B9 found in asparagus, spinach and chickpeas; and zinc found in oysters and nuts all help incorporate fatty acids and convert tryptophan.
Both Vanstone and Weber think the importance of diet in mental health should be recognised, although it might never completely replace drugs. 'Changing diet might not be a cure, but even if it makes people feel that little bit better it's worth it,' says Vanstone.
That's certainly food for thought.
Anyone seeking advice on depression can contact the UK's leading depression charity, Depression Alliance on 0845 123 23 20
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