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We are all human. And that means as much as we try, from time to time, might get in a bad mood. By definition, mood is a temporary state of mind or feeling. That means that if you are always in a bad mood, you might be suffering from clinical depression and if you are always in a good mood, you might just have a happy-go-lucky type of disposition. Many things affect our mood. Environment, lack of sleep, hormones, and stress are among the more common factors. But two things that most definitely affect your mood are food and exercise. You might already be familiar with exercise secreting more of the neurotransmitters (hormones) like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. I’m sure all of you have had the experience of being in a down or bad mood and then going for a brisk walk and feeling better—that is those four feel-good hormones doing their job. But what we eat also can be big player in how we feel.
I have had a few clients over the years who complained to me that after Shabbat, they feel down. I always wondered what this phenomena was all about. At first, I really thought it was linked to less movement and activity on Shabbat along with a general tendency to overeat on the day of rest. But now, I think there is more to it than that.
Dr. Susan M. Kleiner is a dietician who has done extensive research into the field of food and mood. Through her studies over the years, she has determined that there are specific food, nutrients and supplements that can help us achieve a positive mood. Here are some of the most potent and well-documented foods, nutrients and supplements that influence how we feel that she published in a recent edition of ACE ProSource.
There is no other nutrient, food or supplement that will affect the brain more profoundly than water. The brain of an adult human is approximately 78 percent water, and water participates in every biochemical reaction that occurs there. A loss of only 1 to 2 percent of body weight as fluid leads to reductions in alertness and ability to concentrate and to increases in self-reported tiredness and headache (Maughan, 2003). Daily fluid intake recommendations are 9 to 12 cups of fluid per day for a sedentary individual in the form of fluids, non-alcoholic beverages, soups and foods. An additional 2 cups per day should be added for the following factors: illness, weight-loss dieting, activity, hot, dry or humid environments, high altitude, travel, pregnancy and lactation. Exercise requires more fluid.
Carbohydrate and Protein
The amino acid tryptophan is a building block for serotonin, the calming, feel-good brain chemical. A lack of carbohydrate in the diet, is the most common dietary reason for low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is also responsible for helping the body prepare for rest and sleep. Therefore, it is a combination of protein and carbohydrate that enhances mood, alertness, rest and relaxation.
Research has found that diets that include less than 40 percent of total calories from carbohydrate can increase the risk of depression in depression-prone subjects (Soenen et al., 2012).
Fish Oils: DHA and EPA
Fish oils may help ease symptoms of depression. While research has not been done on individuals with severe depression, those with mild-to-moderate symptoms have benefited from fish oil treatment. Daily supplement doses of at least 1000 mg of DHA plus EPA have typically been used in studies with successful outcomes (Grosso et al., 2014). Eating three to five 4-ounce servings of fatty fish per week is also highly recommended. Fish high in oils include sardines, salmon, herring, trout, and canned tuna that contains the original fish oils.
The role of vitamin D in depression is well documented, as vitamin D plays an important part in maintaining levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Vitamin D deficiency is now a global public health problem, affecting a billion people worldwide. Studies utilizing good research methodology have shown in meta-analysis that vitamin D supplementation (≥800 IU daily) was somewhat favorable in the management of depression in studies that demonstrate a change in vitamin levels (Spedding, 2014). Because most adults spend the majority of their time inside, a daily supplement of vitamin D-3 of 800 to 1,000 IU may be a useful strategy for helping to maintain a good mood. Good food sources of vitamin D include fortified milk and fatty fish.
Choline, found most prominently in egg yolks, has been shown to be significantly lacking in the diets of Americans. Choline, a B vitamin, is half of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which acts every time we think or move. Because there is no association between egg yolks consumption and blood cholesterol levels, the most efficient way to add choline back to the diet is to eat one to two whole eggs per day. That strategy alone will increase choline consumption by 50 percent. The recommended Adequate Intake is 425 mg/day for adult women and 550 mg/day for adult men.
A Plant-rich Diet
The brain is a highly metabolic organ, and research is beginning to indicate that many of the phytochemicals in plants act as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, protecting brain cells from injury and reducing inflammation. These actions have the potential to promote memory, learning and cognitive function. Fruits and beverages such as tea, red wine, cocoa and coffee are major dietary sources of polyphenols, which have been identified as having potent neuroprotective actions. A specialized group of polyphenols, are found in a variety of foods and beverages, including parsley, celery, citrus fruits, oregano, wine, soy and soy products, onions, leeks, broccoli, green tea, red wine and chocolate. Another group of polyphenols come from berries, kiwis, plums and apples. A fourth type comes from grapes, wine and peanuts (Meeusen, 2014).
As you can see, eating a diet rich in a full variety of plant foods will support the kind of nutritional intake that will keep you healthy AND happy, functioning at optimal levels throughout your lifetime. Now add exercise to this equation and your bad moods should be a rare event. Aerobics 5 days a week for 35 minutes is the required dose. Brisk walking is just fine. Do some resistance training 2-3 days a week also and however you choose to build muscles, make sure you work hard for the duration of the workout. 20 minutes is probably enough to do the trick.
Eating the right kind of foods and exercising correctly can prevent getting us into a bad mood and can get us out of a depressive state. It can “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”