Wow are we Americans in a bad mood!  The NIH (National Institute of Health) estimates that 21 million Americans suffer from mood disorders and about 15 million suffer from depression, and I would bet that the numbers are even higher.  But those numbers represent 7 and 5% of the US population, respectively.  The following is from The Mood Cure, by Julia Ross:

“We’re in a bad-mood epidemic, a hundred times more likely to have significant mood problems than people a hundred years ago.  And these problems are on the rise.  Adult rates of depression and anxiety have tripled since 1990, and over 80 percent of those who consult medical doctors today complain of excessive stress.  Even our children are in trouble, with at least one in ten suffering from significant mood disorders.”

Tragic, but not hopeless.  Your mood has everything to do with your brain chemistry – specifically your levels of “good mood” neurotransmitters like serotonin and tryptophan.   Your brain chemistry is directly affected by what you eat.  The foods that we eat serve as building blocks for various proteins and other chemicals in our bodies, including for those same brain chemicals.  So while you can’t necessarily decide “I’m going to be in a good mood today”, you can decide to eat foods that will enable your brain to have the right chemical balance to support a good mood.  Most anti-depressant medications just increase the accessibility of serotonin in the brain.  You can do this naturally, without the nasty side-effects of medication (i.e. weight gain…there’s nothing like an extra 10 lbs to improve your mood!)

So what to eat?  Different mood disorders may require slightly different choices, and I highly recommend anyone with mood troubles to read Julia Ross’s book to get specific suggestions.  But in general, some of the worst mood foods and therefore foods to avoid include; artificial sweeteners, sugar, and stimulants like caffeine.  Some of the best foods to eat are high in good-quality protein like wild salmon and free-range eggs, and also foods that have a high nutrient density, like dark leafy greens. 

But it’s not so much about avoiding one particular thing, or adding one magic ingredient to your diet.  It’s about changing the nutritional base.  Get off the sugar and processed food roller-coaster, and start eating vegetables, whole grains, and naturally-raised animal products, and you can see your bad mood lift naturally. 

(A quick disclaimer: I certainly don’t recommend anyone with a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, to treat themselves with salmon and kale alone.  This post is targeted to the majority of us who experience mild to moderate mood troubles such as anxiety and occasional depression.)