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Is Your Diet to Blame
Written By : Mark Rosenberg, MD 
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The prescribing of antidepressant drugs doubled between 1996 and 2005 and rose from 13 million to 27 million users during that time frame. I have to admit that many patients come to me complaining of symptoms that could be diagnosed as depression. Some tell me they have crying spells, or are void of ambition, or are having trouble sleeping. In my practice, I err on the side of caution when it comes to prescribing antidepressant drugs. The truth is that not everyone is clinically depressed.

All too often, patients are looking for a way to make their lives happier. People want to feel better so they try to find a way to lighten up their mood by taking a drug to mask their sadness. Clinical depression is a very complex and potentially dangerous disorder that needs the help of a psychotherapist if drugs are to be prescribed. If you think you might be depressed ask yourself if you have any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

Consult your doctor for the best method of treatment if you feel you are suffering from depression. On the other hand if you find yourself cranky, tired, or a little down in the dumps, you may be able to boost your mood by simply changing what you eat and when you eat it.

Foods To Boost Your Mood

What you eat makes a difference in how you feel. Your choice of food affects your health and your mental state as well. If you are feeling irritable or tired it could be due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency. By simply making a few changes in your eating plan you could alter your mental state. That's why I recommend my patients try a few strategies first to see if it makes a difference in how they feel.

Blood sugars

In order to provide your brain and body with a constant food source, try to eat every 4-5 hours. This will prevent your blood sugar from dipping and keep your insulin from spiking. If you are hypoglycemic you may have to increase your eating to every 2-3 hours.

Limit concentrated sources of sugar such as candy, fruit juice, jam, syrup, and sodas that can cause your blood sugar to rise or drop leaving you fatigued. Other refined carbohydrates can also turn into sugar when they are metabolized so it is best to avoid starches like bagels, and white bread. The better choice would be vegetables, fruit, beans, peas, or any other high-quality carbohydrate.


Mood swings are caused by an increase in blood sugar so it makes sense that slowing down the absorption of sugar in your blood would be helpful. Foods rich in soluble fiber help to accomplish this task thereby lessening mood swings. Add oats, brown rice, barley, apples, pears, oranges, sweet potatoes, beans and strawberries into your diet.


Protein helps slow down the absorption of carbohydrates in the blood which gives you energy and a productive feeling. Include poultry, seafood, fish, veal, tofu, eggs, and low-fat yogurt in your diet.

Omega-3 fats

Research supports the fact that omega-3 fatty acids are present in the brain at higher levels than other parts of the body. Omega-3 fats have shown to be mood lifting and help alleviate depression along with enhancing mental performance. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, mackerel, sardines, ground flaxseeds, canola oil, and walnuts.

Folic acid and B12

There are two B vitamins that are related to moods, folate and vitamin B12. There is scientific evidence to indicate that a deficiency in these two vitamins is somehow related to depression. It is believed that these vitamins are used to create serotonin, which is a key transmitter that helps to stabilize and normalize mood. Food rich in folate are lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, mustard greens, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and oranges. Vitamin B12 can be found in clams, oysters, crab, wild salmon, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk, and eggs.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is thought to help relieve mood disorders because it increases the amounts of serotonin and is associated with helping with "seasonal affective disorder" or the winter blues. Foods to include in your diet rich in vitamin D are fat free and low-fat milk, fortified soy mild and egg yolks.

Tips To Keep Your Mood At Even Keel

Knowing which foods to eat to boost your mood is just the beginning to a healthier lifestyle. Follow these simple tips along with a nourishing diet to get you out of the winter doldrums and into a sunnier mental state.

  • Eat small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. Don't skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Make sure your diet includes healthy, monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil instead of butter. Stay away from extreme low fat diets.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to get enough vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin C and zinc which all are needed for your body to manufacture serotonin.
  • Eat a meal with amino acid tryptophan, like turkey or chicken. Add a carb such as a whole grain roll, to help your body absorb the tryptophan more easily.
  • Cut back on drinking caffeinated beverages.
  • Don't follow diets that cut out an entire food group, such as Atkins diet.
  • Exercise at least 20-30 minutes daily to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Before you resort to taking an antidepressant think about trying a few natural alternatives instead. Take stock of what and when you are eating your meals. There are many vitamin and mineral supplements to help you reach your dietary goals. Consult your doctor or a nutrition expert to guide you in planning a healthy program that could make the difference in your mental attitude, energy level, and overall well-being.

Mark Rosenberg, M.D
Institute For Healthy Aging

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