Improve Your Mood with Food

Did you know that what you eat might affect what you think?  Most people realize that food can improve our physical health.  But according to recent research, there may be also be a link between nutritious food and positive vibes!
mood3In particular, certain foods seem to influence our brains more than others, often lessening the effects of chronic disease or combating depression. Most research has focused on Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin D, two of most promising nutrients in this area.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Generally speaking, Omega-3 Fatty Acids decrease inflammation in our bodies.  This function alone has amazing effects – when we eat Omega-3s, we can decrease our risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Recent studies have also linked Omega-3 consumption to improvements in people with inflammatory bowel disorder (IBS), Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia, as well as auto-immune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. While research does not always represent a guaranteed “cause and effect” or absolute certainty, it definitely doesn’t hurt to load up your diet with Omega-3s!

Omega-3s and Depression
A recent review of 35 randomized, controlled clinical trials found that Omega-3 Fatty Acids improved depressive symptoms in people diagnosed with depression.

  • Interestingly, those that were more severely depressed saw a greater benefit from Omega-3 Fatty acids than those who were not.
  • However, the review did not find however that Omega-3 consumption prevented depression from occurring. [1]

If you are considering taking a fish-oil supplement or increasing Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, you might want to focus on getting more of the EPA type rather than DHA or ALA.  EPA Omega-3s are found in animal sources, and research has found them to be more effective at treating depressive symptoms than those with other types of Omega-3s. [2]  ALA Omega-3s can be found in plant sources, and DHAs come from animal sources.  Salmon and tuna are especially good sources of EPA Omega-3s.

Ready to add some Omega-3s to your diet?  There is no need to rely on getting your fill from a pill when you can eat your way to happiness!

Good Sources of Omega- 3 Fatty Acids

  • Walnuts (ALA)- 1 oz or a small handful (add to cereal or trail mix!)
  • Canola or Soybean Oil (ALA)–  2 Tbl or large spoonfuls
  • Salmon (DHA & EPA) -3-4 oz portiono (size of a deck of cards or palm of your hand)
  • Tuna (DHA & EPA) – 3-4 oz portion
  • Flax or Chia seed (ALA) – 2 Tbl or large spoonfuls (great in smoothies!)

Cooked salmon with sugarsnap peas

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps us maintain bone health, keep up immunity, and stave off depression. Vitamin D is made when our skin reacts with UV light; therefore, people may experience deficiencies during the winter or if they live in cloudy regions. Interestingly, people with darker skin are not as efficient at making Vitamin D as those with lighter skin tones.  Vitamin D deficiency can be determined from a simple lab test.  If you have less than 25OHD <50 nmol/L, you fall into the deficient category.

Vitamin D and Depression
Studies have shown that people living in regions with more sunlight tend to be report being happier than people in cloudy areas.  Could these happier moods be directly related to higher levels of Vitamin D?  Research is mixed on whether increasing Vitamin D consumption, whether through supplemental pills or certain foods, can actually improve your state of mind.  But…

  • A recent review of 15 randomized, controlled clinical trials found a statistically significant improvement of depression symptoms from Vitamin D supplements (≥800 I.U. daily). [3]

The good news is there are a large variety of foods that provide Vitamin D outside of taking a supplement!  Like Omega-3s, consider chowing down to get your Vitamin D fix with food sources.

Good Sources of Vitamin D

  • Fatty Fish– salmon, tuna, mackerel, sole, flounder – plus they include some bonus Omega-3s!
  • Fortified Dairy Products– milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Soy milk
  • Ready-to-eat cereal
  • Mushrooms
  • Dark leafy green vegetables – kale, spinach, collard
  • Kale
  • Okra
  • Egg yolks
  • Beef Liver


Suffice to say, coupled with other healthy lifestyle changes, adding Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin D to your diet may give you the extra boost you need to feel better! If you want to make some dietary changes, remember to start small and be open to trying several different things to avoid getting stuck in a rut. Here’s to a happier, healthier you!


[1] Appleton, et al. Updated systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on depressed mood. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010.
[2] Sublette, M.E. et al. Meta-analysis: Effects of Eicosapentaenoic Acid in Clinical Trials in Depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2011 December; 72(12): 1577-1584.
[3]  Spedding, S. Vitamin D and Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Comparing Studies with and without Biological Flaws. Nutrients 2014, 6, 1501-1518.

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