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Eat yourself happy with food to improve your mood and mental health.

ISLAMABAD -- All smiles: The right food and a Mediterranean-style diet can put a smile on your face

It's long been associated with good health, reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers, and now the Mediterranean diet has been linked to staving off depression,

A new Spanish study involving more than 15,000 people has found a diet loaded with fruit, vegetables, fish, beans, nuts and olive oil, but with low levels of processed meats, could help keep depression at bay.

But can your diet really help put you in a good mood? And can avoiding certain food and drinks discourage low spells or even depression?

Nutritionist Linda Foster says: There's certainly more and more research indicating that diet can influence brain chemistry, with this latest study adding more weight to the idea we can eat ourselves happier.

We don't have the whole picture yet but there are clear indications that, along with regular exercise, sticking to the right diet could help ward off the blues.

The science behind food's effect on happiness is based on evidence that dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain chemistry - altering the hormones responsible for controlling our mood.

This is where the so-called happiness hormone serotonin comes into play.

Body and soul: Exercise and an improved diet can transform your life Foods that naturally boosts its levels, such as bananas, can lift our mood. Conversely, foods that interfere with its production - such as junk food and alcohol - can increase levels of anxiety and depression.

Which explains why a survey by the Food and Mood project, led by mental health charity Mind, found that nearly 90% of people who took part in their study found that changing their diet significantly improved their mental health.

As well as looking at key mood-lifting foods, there has also been interesting research to suggest that trying to lose weight on a diet that restricts calories too severely can have a detrimental effect on mood too.

Linda Foster says: Many of the pathways in the brain that deal with mood and hunger are linked.

So it's no surprise that feeling hungry goes hand-in-hand with feeling grumpy.

And the more extreme your diet, the worse these effects: When you don't eat enough your blood sugar levels get really low, triggering the release of hormones such as adrenaline, says Foster.

"Adrenaline frees glucose from stores in your muscles and liver to provide an emergency energy supply, but also has the unwanted side effect of making you feel anxious and stressed.

Stay hyfrated: Drinking plenty of water is important

The key to eating towards happiness is to have enough of the right mood lifting foods, at regular intervals - and avoiding ones that science suggests can make you feel low. Here are some simple rules to stick to:

Alcohol and caffeine both interfere with the body's production of the happy hormone serotonin, and reduce levels of tryptophan, the amino acid required for serotonin to be produced. This can make you feel anxious and miserable and also disturb your sleep - lack of which is linked to depression - so cutting back or avoiding both completely may help ease your symptoms.

Not drinking enough water can seriously affect your mood. As mental health charity MIND explains: You may also find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly, and start to feel constipated, which puts no one in a good mood! You need to consume at least two pints of water daily to stay hydrated - some water is in your food, but you need to drink the rest. Ordinary tea and coffee don't really count, because the caffeine in them makes you need the toilet and lose more water again.

Smaller, regular meals help keep your blood sugar steady which can ward off dips in energy and mood. A study by the University of Leicester found that people with type 2 diabetes are more likely to suffer with depression, which they believe could be down to the unstable blood sugar levels that go hand-in-hand with the disease.

It can cause rapid blood sugar rise, followed by a steep dip that can lower mood. This means avoiding biscuits, cakes, chocolate and fizzy drinks, but also being careful not to overdo fruit juice which is packed with concentrated amounts of fruit sugar.

The connection between carbohydrates and mood is all about tryptophan, the amino acid they contain. As more tryptophan enters the brain, serotonin levels increase and mood tends to improve, which is why healthy carbs are an important part of a good mood diet.

Indeed, research has suggested that people following low-carb, high-protein diets can become prone to developing depression.

White carbs can spike blood sugar levels so swapping to wholegrain carbs such as granary bread, wholemeal pasta and brown rice, will provide enough tryptophan, but also avoid blood sugar crashes and mood dips.

People who regularly eat high-fat foods, processed meals and sugary snacks are almost two-thirds more likely to suffer from depression than those who choose fruit, vegetables and fish, according to recent research from University College London.

So aiming for more home-cooked meals over takeaways or ready meals, and making sure you're getting your five-a-day can have a big impact on your mood.

Your brain needs fatty oils - especially omega-3s and 6s - to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it's important to eat the right ones. Oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocado are all great sources of healthy, mood-boosting fats.

Research shows that exercising for just 45 minutes, three to four times per week, releases mood-boosting endorphins in the brain which can be as effective at treating mild to moderate depression as the anti-depressant Prozac. Cycling, swimming or even a brisk walk all work well.
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Publication:The Frontier Star (Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan)
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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