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Tracy Shawn: How to Boost Your Bliss with Food

A varied nutrient-rich diet will help increase both overall physical and mental health

In the documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock sets out on an experiment in which he consumes only McDonald’s food for 30 days. Besides the toll on his physical health — irreversible heart damage, unhealthy weight gain, high cholesterol and high blood pressure — Spurlock’s mental health becomes compromised as well. The once alert, energetic Spurlock appears glassy-eyed and lethargic as the month drags on, stating that he has never felt so depressed.

Studies seem to back up Spurlock’s symptoms. According to health expert Dr. Andrew Weil, depression may very well be linked to the body’s inflammatory reaction to processed food. Weil notes two separate studies reporting how junk food may increase depression — 48 percent of the participants in a study published on Jan. 26, 2010, in the online journal PLoS ONE and 58 percent of the participants in a study published in the November 2009 issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry reported a higher incidence of depression after consuming an elevated diet of high-processed food.

Conversely, the participants who ate diets containing more olive oil, fish, fruit and vegetables were at a lower risk of depression.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, states on WebMD: “Dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain structure (chemically and physiologically), which can lead to altered behavior.”

The ways in which Magee suggests changing your mood for the better with diet include:

» Eating complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes) to increase tryptophan levels, which improves mood

» Increasing omega-3s (found in fatty fish, flaxseed and walnuts), which may affect neurotransmitter pathways to the brain

» Eating a well-balanced breakfast consisting of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat to maintain feelings of calmness and energy throughout the day

» Focusing on the Mediterranean diet (high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats and fish), which are all rich in nutrients linked to the prevention of depression.

It’s also important to note that nutritional deficiencies can lead to mood disturbances. Specifically, a lack of thiamine can cause weakness, irritability and depression (food sources include legumes, some seeds, fortified grains); a lack of folate (found in leafy greens, oranges, legumes, fortified grains) can cause depression and apathy; and a deficiency of selenium (found in Brazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds, fortified grains) causes anxiety, irritability, hostility and depression.

It should be noted that vitamins and minerals are more readily — and efficiently — absorbed from food than from supplements. And to further stabilize both energy and mood, limit refined carbohydrates and eat every three to five hours (combining protein with high-quality carbohydrates).

Generally, it’s not just about limiting intake of junk food, but also choosing a varied nutrient-rich diet that will help increase both overall physical and mental health.

— Tracy Shawn, MA, “The Walk & Talk Weight Loss Coach”, is a certified nutrition and wellness consultant for men and women. She helps clients achieve their weight loss goals through individualized guidance and education. Click here to contact her.

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