Food and Behaviour Research

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07 November 2014 - The Australian - Eat yourself happy

Peta Bee

WHAT makes you happy? Scientists say it could be as simple as your daily food and drink. They have shown that if you eat the right things you can prime your brain to remain positive and even ward off depression.

The journal Biological Psychiatry confirmed that the omega-3 fatty acids found in mackerel, sardines and other oily fish can leave you less likely to get depression. But can your diet really make that much difference to your state of mind?

“What you eat plays a crucial role in mental health,” says dietitian and nutritionist Nigel Denby, director of the 132 Harley Street nutrition clinic. “A poor and erratic diet disrupts the body’s production of happiness hormones that can cause your mood to ­roller-coaster throughout the day.” Eating regularly is crucial, Denby says. “An occasional planned fast is fine and might produce feelings of euphoria as a result of your feeling you are doing something positive. But, in general, your brain needs to know it is getting a good supply of B vitamins, iron and other nutrients that are crucial for it to thrive.”

No single happy food can transform your mood on its own. “The effects are cumulative,” says nutrition expert Ian Marber. “It’s no good expecting an immediate response from a healthy choice if you eat poorly the rest of the time. Eat a varied and nutritious range of the foods shown to boost your mood to reap the benefits.”

Mackerel and sardines

These are among the oily fish that could contribute to a reduced risk of depression, researchers announced last month. Oily fish contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which have a long list of health benefits and are also known to have antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties. Previous studies have suggested that raising the intake of omega-3 “fish oils” can help to combat depression and the latest study, which included scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, suggested that even a short course (two weeks) of a nutritional supplement containing one such omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (EPA) reduced the rates of new-onset depression to 10 per cent in a group of patients with hepatitis C, a chronic virus infection that triggers depression in 30 per cent of sufferers. “Eating oily fish a few times a week is highly recommended,” Denby says.