Not long ago, my husband, Tom, came home and observed my scowling face with alarm.
“OK, what’s up?” he asked warily. I ticked off a list of irritations: our next-door neighbor’s yappy new dog, a barrage of robo-calls, a coworker’s latest drama. As I ranted, Tom cast a quick glance at a ravaged bag of double chocolate chip cookies on our kitchen counter.
“Let me guess,” he said with a sigh. “You ate a bunch of cookies.”
I had to laugh. After many years of marriage, Tom knows that after I go on a sugar jamboree, I’m irritable, antsy, and generally not that much fun to be around.
Anyone who has been “hangry” after skipping lunch—or woozy after a turkey dinner—knows that there is a pretty strong connection between food and mood. Now the research is mounting that eating nutrient-rich foods can actually improve your mental health.
Researchers in the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry are finding a notable link between what you eat and what you feel, particularly when it comes to managing depression and anxiety.
More and more, doctors are recognizing that diet should be part of treatment—and are even prescribing certain foods alongside therapy and medication. A recent study published in BMC Medicine found that those with depressive symptoms had a “significant reduction” after 12 weeks on a healthy diet. A depression-prone friend of mine, with the help of her doctor, did just that, overhauling her diet for three months. “I felt a lot better,” she says. “I think in my case, what helped the most is that after eating well, I slept really well, which was so good for my mood.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression affects more than 322 million people worldwide. Common symptoms of depression include low mood, a lack of interest in things you once enjoyed, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, poor concentration, and fatigue.
It makes sense that food should affect one of our biggest organs—the brain. The World Journal of Psychiatry recently published a paper listing 12 nutrients key to managing depression and anxiety, among them vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and selenium. Here are some others that have been shown to improve your mood.