Feeling blue, sluggish, and kind of shitty lately? Put down that cookie! That is, if you're reading this early in the day. If it's later, by all means have a bite; it will make you feel better.
Turns out moods are directly affected by what we consume and when. The morning toast and cereal habit, for example, might well be a drag on our happiness. Timing, combining and context are everything in the food-antidepressant business, it seems.
Then there are all the issues around fats. Is chocolate buzz-inducing? And what about rich meals? Theoretically, fatty food is supposed to be a downer, but it might just give you a warm glow because of positive childhood associations. It's complicated. Have a cookie.
What the experts say
"What you eat affects how you feel and how you think. High-starch meals raise serotonin, which is better to have in high levels later in the day, because it makes you sleepy and clumsy. Serotonin also reduces anxiety. So a high-protein, low-starch breakfast will increase focus, concentration and lift your mood. In the evening, eat something starchy. Did you go to bed with a glass of milk and a cookie? In Ireland, where I grew up, it was hot milk and honey. The milk has tryptophan, and the cookie or honey pushes up insulin enough to get rid of all the competing amino acids and let tryptophan get into the brain. That's good preparation for sleep. The brain is a nutrient hog. Omega 3 and omega 6 fats need to be in balance. Vitamin D is important, and vitamin C has a huge impact on mood and probably acts like a neurotransmitter in the brain."
AILEEN BURFORD MASON, nutritionist, immunologist, author, Eat Well, Age Better, Toronto
"There's research on the benefits of fish oil in mood disorders and bipolar and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. But the most convincing evidence is for major depression. It's also been known for decades that deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folate, B9, are associated with depression, but there's more evidence for folate than B12. There's a new research on vitamin D, but the omega 3s and B vitamins are the key players."
DAVID MISCHOULON, staff psychiatrist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
"Our research shows that comfort foods are those associated with particular memories, people and feelings. A lot of research focuses on high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods, but not on the particular foods individuals find comforting - or why macaroni and cheese may be comforting in the U.S., for example, as opposed to a rice dish in Asia. In our study, women found chocolate more comforting than men did. My work focuses on the sick and frail, who usually want to consume foods they like. Sometimes caregivers with good intentions want them to eat so-called healthy foods. Our research suggests it might be better to let sick people what they like."
JULIE LOCHER, professor of medicine and public health, University of Alabama at Birmingham
"We were interested in whether obesity caused by a high-fat diet can cause depression-like symptoms. We put one group of mice on a high-fat diet and the other on similar ingredients but a much lower-fat diet. The mice on the high-fat diet showed significantly more anxiety and depression-like symptoms, an increase in the stress hormone corticosterone, and increased reactivity to stressful situations. Certain fats are more deleterious than others."
STEPHANIE FULTON, professor, department of nutrition, University of Montreal
"Studies show short-term favourable effects on mood from chocolate, but these dissipate within minutes. In the longer term, our study showed a positive association between chocolate consumption and depression. We don't know which is cause and which is effect. Many chocolate products contain trans fats that are associated with adverse mood. And compounds from fungicides, found even in organic chocolates, could affect mood negatively."
BEATRICE A. GOLOMB, professor of family and preventive medicine, UC San Diego school of medicine