Mood swings. Depression. Anxiety. As women, we get used to a fair amount of hormonal fluctuations and the occasional down day. But add babies, money worries, sleeplessness and mum hormones to the balance, and the occasional teary day can become less occasional. Whilst depression is a medical condition, requiring medical attention, there is lots you can do to help your brain chemistry by paying more attention to what you eat.
I recently interviewed Naturopath Emma Mihill of Higher Nature (www.highernature.co.uk) for a feature on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many of her suggestions are directly applicable for depression too.
Mihill says depression is caused by problems with the body’s chemical pathways that lead to the production of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is your happy hormone (think chocolate and sex) and melatonin is your sleepy, curl up in a ball hormone. If these hormones get out of whack, you can get those anxious, tearful, the-world-is-closing-in-on-me days.
But whilst we are hard pushed trying to squeeze in mum tasks, stressing about babies, work and relationships, the last thing we think about is eating right. It becomes cyclical: you feel down, you eat rubbish, you feel worse.
Then of course there’s the push to get thin. Some popular diets promote low calorie, low fat diets but healthy fats from foods like avocado and fish are VITAL (intentional shouty capitals) for your mood, your body and for fat loss (more on this another time). And if you’re breast feeding, for your babies immune system, intelligence and gut health.
Mihill recommends eating oily fish at least four times a week or taking a good quality fish oil supplement. “Oily fish are rich in Omega 3s which are important for brain function,” she says.
It’s also worth knowing that serotonin comes from your gut. So if your happy hormones have been created from what you ate at the weekend, how happy are you today?
According to Mihill, in order for your body to make the hormones serotonin and melatonin from protein, it needs zinc, B vitamins and magnesium. She recommends eating protein with every meal. “Reach for complete proteins like meat, eggs, hemp and tofu.” This won’t just help brain chemistry but will also help to keep blood sugar levels stable, keeping those carbohydrate cravings at bay.
I found this example of a celebrity mum’s daily diet in a national newspaper today:
Breakfast: Alpen or bran flakes with skimmed milk or a slice of wholemeal toast with honey.
Snack: Ryvita with peanut butter.
Lunch: Sandwich with tuna or a baked potato with tuna and salad with light mayonnaise and sweetcorn
Dinner: Grilled fish and vegetables or stir-fry.
Here’s how I’d tweak it to keep you fuller and up the protein levels (she’s only taking in about 25g of protein, I’d recommend 50g minimum).
Breakfast: Boiled egg/smoked salmon/avocado and slice of wholemeal toast with nut butter.
Snack: Strawberries and a handful of nuts.
Lunch: Sandwich with tuna or a baked sweet potato with tuna and salad with olive oil.
Dinner: Grilled fish and vegetables or stir-fry/chilli with rice/chicken and sweet potato wedges
- Always have protein at breakfast and at every meal
- Always have some kind of protein with fruit snacks (it will keep you fuller longer)
- Plan your meals, even if only 3 days at a time
- Eat with your children during the day, it’s more preparation time but will make sure you eat
- If you feel hungry, have a protein/carb combination snack