Saturday, December 12, 2009

Managing Moods with Food Choices

As someone who battles each winter with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I am in constant search of strategies to manage my symptoms. This afternoon, while surfing the net like I often do, I came across a great article on food choices that can help your mood. Feel free to check it out here.

I thought I would take some time to talk about which of these I have been including in my daily diet. I’m a strong believer that nutrition can play an important role in managing depression, and a lot of times those who are battling with depression don’t realize that nutrition can help. They list 6 tips on things you should be doing that will help you feel good and 3 things you should avoid to help as well. Let’s break it down by each one listed in the article and I’ll talk about how these relate to what I include to help me.

1. Seek out foods rich in vitamin B12 and folic acid

  • Like the article states, folic acid is usually found in beans and greens & vitamin B12 is found in meats, fish, poultry, and dairy. All of these are found in my everyday diet throughout the year. The only one that I don’t eat is fish. So check on including foods with both for me.
2. Enjoy fruits and vegetables in a big way.
  • Prior to me starting my journey to better health I was really lacking veggies and fruits in my diet. Not surprisingly, my SAD symptoms were pretty bad back then. It’s good to know that a benefit from having several servings of both daily is helping my moods.
3. Eat selenium-rich foods every day
  • Whole grains, beans and legumes, lean meat, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, and seafood are all good sources of selenium. Interestingly enough, other than seafood, all of these appear in my diet as well. So it looks like I’m 3 for 3 so far.
4. Eat fish several times a week
  • Oh no here is one that I don’t do. But I’m just not a fish kind of girl. The article goes into a little more detail to point out that this suggestion is based on the fact that omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in the particularly fatty fish, are thought to have a positive effect on mood. To make sure I’m consuming my omega-3’s I try to include other sources like walnuts and flaxseed. I also supplement with Fish Oil pills which are a source of Omega-3’s. I would prefer to get my nutrition needs met by foods, but in this case I just can’t bring myself to eat fish so I do supplement in hopes it helps.
5. Get a daily dose of vitamin D
  • So during the summer months this is not a big problem since I get outside everyday in the sun, but in the winter since I live in the Northeast this is hard for me to get from the sun since the intensity of the sun isn’t there to help produce vitamin D. They talk about our primary source of dietary vitamin D is in fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, breads, juices, and milk. Some of these are things I include but not in levels where it would provide me all the daily requirement, so again this is a place where I supplement. I found out in a blood test about a year ago that my levels where on the low side, on the suggestion of my doctor, I started to supplement. Since beginning supplementing, my level has come into the normal range.
6. Treat Yourself to 1 oz of Chocolate
  • Oh this is one I am practicing several times a week. I have a piece of 85% dark chocolate after lunch a couple times a week. And here I thought I was just treating myself! Good to know that my treat could be helping my moods during the winter.

So if you were keeping track I employ 5 out of the 6 suggestions. It was nice to see that I already have been doing what they were talking about in the article. I think that those 6 are things that are components of a healthy eating plan anyway.

Now on to the 3 things they list for limiting in your diet. Wonder how well I do in implementing those.

1. Reduce foods high in saturated fat

  • This shouldn’t be a surprise. I already do this. Again I think this is just a component of healthy eating anyway. A few weeks ago, when I posted about my little experiment about tracking my food for a couple days, I was happy to see I never was above the American Heat Association recommendations of 20 grams.
2. Limit alcohol carefully
  • I hardly ever drink alcohol so this one is fairly simple for me. I have several reasons I don’t drink very often, but the main one is that alcohol has little nutritional value and just doesn’t seem worth the calories.
3. Don’t go crazy with caffeine
  • At one point in my life I was constantly wired on caffeine. No wonder I had periods of insomnia! Now a days my caffeine intake is limited to a cup of coffee at breakfast and an occasional cup of hot tea. I have one rule with caffeine and that is not to drink it past 3pm.

Questions for you:
Are you doing the things listed above in your daily diet?
What other things are you doing to manage your moods with your nutrition choices?
What other strategies are you employing to help you manage and maintain good moods?

Quote of the Day:
"Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale." ~ Elsa Schiaparelli


  1. Fantastic advice, I especially like the vitamin D advice. I have read studies that have shown low vitamin D during the winter can cause depression, and I really think it plays a HUGE role in SAD. I recommend to everyone that they should take a vitamin D supplement, like Viactiv.

    I have been doing yoga and pilates to manage my moods. Also watching my alcohol intake (no more than one or two over the weekend). This is really good for PMS too :)

  2. A physician told me that she recommends that people suffering from SAD buy special blue light bulbs that are available at most places that sell light bulbs. Apparently the bulbs have a similar effect to the very expensive light boxes that are often recommended for people who suffer from SAD.

  3. Just came across your blog, and it's really great! I'm not sure if I fully suffer from SAD, but I'm pretty sure I have a mild case, largely due to the fact that I just loveee sunlight. I follow most of these rules (particularly the chocolate one haha).

    Brazil nuts are great, tasty sources of selenium. I also take vitamin D because a large majority of Americans are actually deficient.

    I've also heard about those light bulbs, and am curious to try one out.

  4. I've had bouts with SAD in the past, and this is wonderful information to have. Thanks for posting. Look forward to following!