Fighting Depression and Anxiety with Your Fork: 5 Top Food Tips for Boosting Your Mood

April 30, 2013

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As part one of a two part series, previous blog contributors Kendall and Annette, two young cancer survivors and authors of Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen, share their tips on how food can positively impact mood in preparation for LBBC’s upcoming webinar on anxiety and depression after breast cancer.

Let’s face it: Life is fast-paced and challenging enough as it is. Add a cancer diagnosis and the likely possibility of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to the mix and it goes without saying that our world, and our emotions, get turned upside down and inside out. If we weren’t already facing them before, anxiety and/or depression can find their way into our lives and wreak havoc with our minds and bodies. This is an important time to make self-care a priority. Though we may not feel motivated to do so, taking steps to care for ourselves, even when we are down-in-the-dumps, can help pull us back up onto our feet a lot faster. Some self-care practices that I love are receiving therapeutic touch, sitting in silence and getting outside to move and feel the sun shine on my face. These all help lift my spirit and bring some peace. But beyond that, I’ve discovered the power of real food to help me feel better and stronger, physically, psychologically and emotionally.

Today I’d like to share my top tips around using food to help boost your mood. Try out these suggestions and see if they help the stress and anxiety lessen and the dark clouds lift just a little.

1. Eat a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet: It’s clear – what we put onto our plates and into our bodies matters. When we consume a nutrient-poor diet, we aren’t giving our body what it needs to be strong and healthy on all levels, including mentally and emotionally. Transitioning from a diet which is focused on packaged, processed foods and moving toward a diet rich in whole foods provides the nutrients and minerals our body, and minds, are craving. A good rule of thumb is to stick with foods your great-grandmother would recognize.

2. Add Healthy Fats to Your Diet: Having enough of the right kinds of fats in your diet is important for optimal health.  Of special importance for mental and emotional health are omega-3 fatty acids. These have been found in some studies to be as helpful as medication for depression. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s are flax and flax oil, walnuts, and chia and hemp seeds. For those comfortable with a vegetarian and seafood diet (pescetarian diet), cod liver oil is also an excellent source.

3. Satisfy your Sweet Tooth in a Smart Way: Sugar, the culprit of many health woes, lures us in with its sweetness and causes ups and downs in energy and emotion. Step off of sugar’s roller coaster ride and satisfy your sweet tooth in a more balanced way. Enjoying whole fruit, like berries, which are high in antioxidants, give us the pleasure of sweetness which won’t interfere with our blood sugar level while at the same time giving us a healthy boost! Win-win situation! Dark chocolate (the higher the cocoa content, the better) is also another healthy way to enjoy a sweet, rich treat.

4. Vitalize with Vitamins: All vitamins and minerals are important for our health, but certain ones stand out in importance for mental and emotional health. Vitamin D, which is produced by our body when our skin is exposed to sunlight, often needs to be supplemented in our diets in order to obtain adequate levels. Consider adding in some Vitamin D along with some careful exposure to sunlight. Vitamin B-12 also plays a role in our ability to manage stress and anxiety. For vegetarians and vegans, supplementation is important. For pescetarians sardines, salmon, halibut and cod are all choices high in B-12.

5. Pleasurable Protein: Including protein at each meal and snack can go a long way to helping us deal with depression and anxiety. And shifting our focus to healthy, plant-based protein foods will benefit us on so many levels. Try including some leafy greens (yes, they contain protein!) like parsley, broccoli, romaine and kale in a meal or two a day. Snack on almonds and walnuts. And enjoy the wide variety of beans – like black, pinto, navy and adzuki, just to name a few – in soups or dishes.

As challenging as it may be to ditch the familiar – and often unhealthy – comfort foods we are used to when not feeling well, the effort we make to clean up our diets and our plates can pay off in helping us face the stress and anxiety which our lives, and cancer, may bring us, and can also help brighten our moods as well. And the best part: eating well tastes delicious, and the sights and scents and company of a good meal can help lift our spirits, too.

Part two of this series will discuss the idea of ‘comfort foods’ and why we turned to them when we’re feeling down. Since comfort foods are stereotypically rich and decadent, Kendell and Annette will take your most popular comfort foods and make them healthier with new lighter recipes! To submit your favorite comfort food to be lightened up in a new recipe, please leave a comment here or visit our facebook page! Maybe your favorite indulgence will make the cut and you’ll have a great new recipe to try! Happy voting!

Don’t forget, on May 15th LBBC will be hosting a free webinar titled Anxiety and Depression After Breast Cancer from noon to 1pm featuring guest speaker Dr. Ruth Steinman. Click here for more information or to register.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen or or purchasing their healthy cookbook please visit http://thekickingkitchen.com/.

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