Good-mood foods: How your diet can combat depression, anxiety

“Anything processed will add too much sugar in. For instance, if you eat an apple, it’ll be around seven grams of sugar. That’s a healthy amount, while a Snickers bar will have around 30 grams," said Baily Smith, junior in dietetics. (Katelin Woods | Collegian Media Group) Photo credit: Katelin Woods

When you think of self-care, cucumber eye patches and face masks may come to mind. People make efforts to address our exterior appearance but often disregard their interiors.

Nutrition is a leading factor to our mood, but it’s not something people think of fixing.

Most mood swings are fueled by refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar. Consuming these causes an intense rise and fall of glucose levels, leading to irritability and fatigue.

In order to combat these pitfalls, people must reduce their intake of refined carbohydrates.

This doesn’t mean people should wage a war on all carbohydrates and sugars. There are good carbs and sugars such as multigrain bread, brown rice, bananas, apples and more.

“Anything processed will add too much sugar in,” Baily Smith, junior in dietetics, said. “For instance, if you eat an apple, it’ll be around seven grams of sugar. That’s a healthy amount, while a Snickers bar will have around 30 grams.”

Other items to avoid include stimulants like caffeine and depressants like alcohol.

Experts disagree on the effects of caffeine on mental health; however, those who are sensitive to caffeine and consume too much of it may, “experience depression more frequently,” according to Better Help, a professional mental health website.

“Anything that is a depressant or a stimulant can alter your mood,” Alyssa Cohn, junior in dietetics said. “Also, nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers produce natural pesticides that can be bad for your anxiety.”

As creatures of habit, these objectives can be daunting. But how good of a time can you have if you’re constantly dragging due to your dietary intake?

Encountering cravings

In order to no longer be a prisoner to cravings, you’ll need some nutrient supplements backing you; cravings are nutrient deficits, or the body’s way of saying, “Have a fruit or something, ya goon!”

Taking B-complex vitamins can boost serotonin levels and the body’s metabolism, while fish oil reduces sugar cravings by heightening insulin sensitivity. Chromium and L-glutamine both manage blood sugar levels and can also combat carbohydrate cravings.

Some dietary deficiencies can make individuals susceptible to depression as well.

“A lot of common deficiencies that people with depression experience are folate acid, B-12 and iron,” Smith said. “Those deficiencies will lead to fatigue. Always get a professional opinion first, but trying to up your vitamin intake in those categories may help with energy.”

Another item that can challenge progression in your diet is time. With lack of preparation, people may spare their health for fast food substitutes.

By prepping your meals a week in advance, you are likely to overeat less and spend less. Planning snacks can also save you from indulging in processed foods that lack proper nutrients.

One solution is to prep one high-protein item in bulk that you can implement into various meals. That way you will meet your dietary needs while also leaving room for variety.

Good options are grass-fed beef, chicken, salmon, tofu and edamame. These items can be eaten alone, put into a salad, paired with brown rice, implemented in pasta and more.

Numbers don’t matter much

Often when we think of health, we demonize calories or food. This narrative is dangerous and can lead to worse mental health problems.

“A lot of people put emphasis on calorie intake, but not where the calories are coming from,” Cohn said.

It is important to transition your mindset from “I’m eating this because I hate my body” to “I’m doing this because I love my body, and I want to better support my mental health.”

The number on the scale doesn’t equate to your value nor your health.

“Your weight doesn’t mean you’re healthy,” Smith said. “You could be 200 pounds overweight and have the same condition as someone who’s 50 pounds under-weight. It is clearly about what you’re eating, not how much.”

Steer clear from diving in all at once, because you may begin to resent your attempt at healthy alternatives. Be kind to yourself, and listen to your body. There is nothing wrong with a pizza night with friends, but by being aware of alternatives you can begin to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle and mind.

My name is Katelin Woods and I graduated with a Bachelor's of Arts in public relations in May 2020. I worked as the first audience engagement manager of the Collegian from 2019 to 2020 and took photos for the multimedia staff. I was also the founding editor of the culture desk in 2018. I am an enthusiast of a poetry, pizza roll and pajamas.