It’s the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness — and comfort food. But try to resist — or, at least, don’t go for the traditional, stodgy, fat-laden offerings. Research published last week in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJP) showed that people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet (fruit, vegetables, pulses, cereals and olive oil) were 30 per cent less likely to get depressed than those whose diet was laden with processed and high-fat foods. And since the No 1 rule for keeping your mood on an even keel is to eat regularly during the day, you can take comfort from the fact that the research doesn’t advocate starving yourself.
Just the simple task of eating the right breakfast after a night’s fast will boost not only mood, but also memory, learning power and concentration, probably by increasing production of the nerve transmitter acetylcholine. The key is to stay off fast-release carbohydrates such as croissants with jam, cereal bars, muffins, sugary cereals and sweet drinks. These are digested rapidly, giving your blood glucose an exaggerated spike, which is swiftly followed by a low.
Instead, opt for slow-release glucose found in foods such as sugar-free muesli with berries, porridge or sourdough toast with peanut butter — choices that are more likely to keep moods level by delivering a stable and steady flow of energy to the brain and by keeping you feeling full for the morning ahead.
At lunchtime, concentrate more on protein. This seems to make us feel more mentally alert, and serotonin, the neurotransmitter in our brains that makes us feel happy, is made from tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods such as fish and meat. Try a good-sized serving of lean chicken, turkey, fish or pulses with salad or vegetables, rather than your usual sandwich, to avoid that afternoon slump. Fish is particularly good since it contains gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA), which provides mood-elevating effects by blocking anxiety and stress (mackerel has particularly high levels). Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on your salad and you’ll put an extra spring in your step; these are one of the best sources of the essential amino acid threonine, low levels of which are associated with depression.