Women Over 50 Can Turn to Diet and Nutrition to Combat Depression

By on January 15, 2021

Many women over 50 may be feeling down in the dumps in the lead up to Blue Monday (January 18), said to be the most depressing day of the year. Few people are likely to turn to diet and nutrition as a way to combat the January blues. The link between mental health and nutrition is underestimated, however increasing evidence suggests that good nutrition can significantly support mental health. The food we eat can impact a number of mechanisms involving neurotransmitters, hormones, and other biological processes in the body.

To help people better understand the effects of our diet on our mental health, we need to understand the ways in which food affects our mood and how we can use this knowledge to take better care of ourselves.

Why does bad food give us the most pleasure?

The hunger hormone ghrelin tells our brain it’s time to seek out more food when our stomach is empty. It does this by stimulating the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives rise to positive feelings of pleasure. We’re all familiar with the pleasure rush dopamine gives us, such as when we treat ourselves to a purchase we’ve wanted for ages, or get excited to go on holiday. However, dopamine’s most important role in the body is to motivate us to eat. It causes us to seek pleasure and start ‘hunting’ for food, which these days is running to the pantry for a chocolate chip cookie! Not only this, but dopamine causes our brain to remember how pleasurable the chocolate chip cookie was, causing us to want to eat it again and ultimately chasing foods that give us the highest dopamine surge. That’s why, when we feel stressed or sad, we seek foods that will give us the most pleasure and comfort to eat.

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Tumeric and nutrition

Try incorporating turmeric into your diet. It is often found in dishes such as in curries or even a latte. Its active ingredient, curcumin, has been found to increase levels of dopamine. And if you are finding yourself reaching for the cookies too often as your body tries to chase down a dopamine surge, then it is worth relooking at what you’re eating more generally in the day. Opting for satiating foods at lunchtime – for example, high protein and high fiber dishes – will help keep ghrelin, the hunger hormone, at bay.

Healthy gut, happy you

Serotonin is another hormone and neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and is linked to feelings of happiness. It’s possible for some of us to have lower levels of serotonin, due to aspects such as our genetic makeup or adverse life events, however, good nutrition can be beneficial in increasing serotonin levels and stabilizing moods. Foods rich in omega-3 fats, low-GI carbs, and soluble fiber have been shown to increase serotonin levels.

Low GI foods will give you sustained energy and stabilize your mood throughout the day, rather than high GI foods (like cakes and sweets) which will make both your energy and mood crash. Recent evidence has also found that most of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in the nervous system, such as that of the intestines. This is partly linked to the gut microbiome, so looking after this with soluble prebiotic fibers and probiotics could have a bigger impact on your happiness than you may think.

For a hit of omega-3 fat, low-GI carbs, and soluble prebiotic fiber in one meal, try a mix of chia seed and oatmeal for breakfast, or salmon, lentils, and green beans for dinner.

De-stress eating

Magnesium’s main function in the body is energy regulation, muscle, and nerve function. However, there is some evidence to suggest it plays a role in regulating stress too. Low levels have also been associated with anxiety, while those who have been found to supplement with magnesium have shown mood-stabilizing effects. Interestingly, one study found that students undergoing stressful exam conditions had increased amounts of magnesium in their urine, suggesting that magnesium plays a role in the body’s stress response, and levels are ultimately left lower. Scientists agree more research is needed, but as dietary intake of magnesium has been shown to be insufficient in Western populations, there’s no harm in upping our intake.

The recommended dosage for magnesium is 400mg – 420Mg for adult men and 310mg – 360mg for adult women. A versatile 50g serving of spinach contains around 40mg, one avocado provides 58g of magnesium.

It’s important to remember that our bodies and minds are like machines and they simply can’t function at their best if not getting the right fuel. This fuel comes in the vitamins and minerals that we need to keep ourselves healthy, and importantly by staying hydrated to aid these mood-boosting nutrients being delivered to the brain.

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Women Over 50 Can Turn to Diet and Nutrition to Combat Depression