Mac and cheese. Chocolate chip cookies. A bite of Ben and Jerry’s. Some call it “comfort food”; others say it’s “food as friend.” However you phrase it, turning to food to soothe the soul has been a short-term defense for defeating depression for decades. And now science is verifying that the food you choose does indeed influence mood.
Food and Mood
That what you eat can affect your mind and emotions was first discovered by Richard Wurtman, MD and Judith Wurtman, PhD, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1970s, when they found that the sugar and starch in carbohydrate foods boosted a powerful brain chemical called serotonin. Soon they linked serotonin and other neurotransmitters (substances that pass information from cell to cell in the brain) to your every mood, emotion, or craving. For instance, they noted that eating a carbohydrate-rich food, such as pasta or potato chips, elevated serotonin levels, helping you to feel more relaxed and calm; high –protein foods, such as fish or poultry, have the opposite effect: they release substances that let you think and react more quickly and feel more alert and energetic—without the stimulation of caffeine, found in coffee, tea, and many sodas.
Nourishing the Void
The emerging science of food-mood research offers new insights into intelligent nutritional steps you can take to diminish depression through diet. But there’s a caveat: keep in mind that antidepressant medication may be the best choice for deeply depressed people. Once you and your doctor have decided the smartest choice for you, personally, here are some food-mood strategies to consider:
From cookies and cake to ice cream, comfort foods are often high in sugar. This means they may provide some short-term comfort by releasing soothing serotonin, but you won’t get long-term relief; rather, sugar-laden comfort food could worsen depression because its high- sugar content can send your blood-sugar levels plummeting, leaving you even more depressed and fatigued then prior to eating them.