5 Foods to Make You Happy (Hint: Omega-3s)
Do you ever feel depressed or disconnected from your daily life, as if you’re just going through the motions? Are your relationships suffering because you feel numb and joyless? Do you forget appointments or events and then wonder why? Do you have a child who seems to cry easily, feel sad a lot or just seems withdrawn?
If so, you are not alone. Depression rates in the U.S. “have roughly tripled over two decades,” according to several studies and reported in CBS News TV show “Sunday Morning,” which aired on March 18. That translates to 27 million Americans taking pharmaceuticals such as Wellbutrin, Celexa, Pristiq, Cymbalta, Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor and Prozac. Studies show that these antidepressants work for only 30 to 45% of people and many of these drugs come with serious side effects such as suicide, violence, psychosis, abnormal bleeding and brain tumors.
There are many valid reasons why people could become depressed, such as the financial impact of the economy, the death of a loved one, foreclosure and abuse to name a few. However, turning to these mood-altering drugs doesn’t appear to offer a healthy solution. In fact, most of those drugs target Serotonin (the feel-good hormone) uptake while new studies show that depression is linked more closely to too much Cortisol (the stress hormone) in our system.
In fact, studies show that there are many lifestyle adjustments that can be applied for free that help to lift our mood from “can’t get off the couch” to moving through our day with a smile of accomplishment. A few changes in your daily routine can make a big difference in your mental/emotional state. Try spending time in nature or with a pet, taking a long walk, moving your body in some form of exercise you enjoy, turning off depressing news reports, finding a spiritual path that speaks to you, mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and engaging in supportive relationships.
By far, one of the most disturbing facts on depression rates is that pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants claims a study published in “Psychiatric Services,” April 2004. What?! The preschool years have always been among the most innocent and joyful times of life! At least four percent of preschoolers, over a million, are clinically depressed. The rate of increase in depression among children is an astounding 23% and is currently escalating, claims a Harvard University study reported in “Harvard Mental Health Newsletter”, February 2002.
Some might claim that doctors are simply getting better at diagnosing depression. I have a different opinion and it involves nutrition or the lack thereof.
Our brains, especially our growing brains, need good fats to be healthy. No, wait a second – don’t run to the freezer for ice cream quite yet! While ice cream is fatty and does taste great it will only make you feel good for a little while…. What I’m talking about are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s).
Of all of our body parts, it’s the brain that’s most in need of high-quality fats. In fact, the brain is made up of 60% fat, mostly an Omega-3 fat called DHA. Its job is to support cellular communication and when present in the right ratio, it produces happiness while increasing learning and memory skills. If our brains are deficient in Omega-3’s we can experience depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder. Not surprisingly, Americans are deficient in Omega-3’s. Some reports indicating 95% of us lack enough Omega-3’s to support our brains!
One reason for this is our reliance on processed, nutrient-deficient foods. Ask any kid what his favorite foods are and you’ll probably get a long list of junk foods like Cheezits and Ring Dings! Not only are processed foods lacking in Omega-3’s, but are also high in Omega-6’s that unbalances the ratio of EFA’s and is the leading cause of inflammatory issues.
Once again looking to the past to solve a present day crisis provides a solution. In ages past, we had an understanding that food was medicine. When we return to the way our ancestors ate and include many natural whole foods into our diet, the dense nutrition begins to balance our brains and the rest of us as well! The lowest rates of depression are found in societies with the highest consumption of EFA rich foods.
One of the biggest sources of Omega-3’s is from fish, particularly salmon, sardines and halibut. Wild-caught fish are far healthier than farm-raised. Some people are vegan or don’t like the taste of fish and choose to supplement with fish or krill oils. Choosing a highly purified version of fish oil is wise, as many fish are contaminated with PCP’s and mercury, resulting in a very expensive toxic sludge.
Walnuts are also a good source of Omega-3’s, but be sure to buy them raw for the biggest impact.
Soy is also high in Omega-3’s. However, soy is among the most genetically modified (GM) foods on the market. GM foods contain proteins not found in nature and for many they lead to digestive issues as these strange proteins are not easily broken down. The UK experienced a 50% rise in pediatric allergies the year that GM foods were introduced in their markets. Coincidence? I think not.
Flax seeds are also a great source of Omega-3’s. To access all the nutrition they hold you must be sure to grind them up. Refrigerating Flax is a must because the oil quickly becomes rancid.
Lastly, chia seeds, nature’s forgotten superfood, are so chock full of Omega-3’s they are sure to put a smile on your face! As a nutrition coach, I feel chia is the superior choice for Omega-3’s. They contain 30% EFA’s and the most antioxidants of any food researched, including blueberries. Not only does that mean the oil stays very stable without the seeds needing refrigeration, but it also imparts anti-aging support to your brain and the rest of your body as well. Because the seeds have an extremely thin outer shell (unlike flax) they needn’t be ground, they are completely bio-available. Another wonderful aspect of chia seeds is that bugs don’t like the plant. This means you needn’t worry about herbicides, pesticides, mercury, PCP’s, rancidity or genetic modification.
How’s that for a superfood? Eat some and get happy – superhappy!