Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Aimee: Hi everyone. Aimee here. Henry is going to dive into a lesson on food and mood in just a moment. I hope that you, caught our episodes a few ago on self-compassion, because that's the mindset we wanna approach this lesson with. Food really is powerful for our wellbeing, and it's also a ritual, it's delicious and it can be complicated. So please approach this lesson with all the love you can gather up for yourself, knowing that there is no perfect here. Just a radically sensible approach as we like to say, that can support you best. I'll link in the show notes to our resilience quiz and free mini course.
So in those resources, in the mini course specifically, we have some food lists for the resilience types and for the obstacles that might match up for you, as far as what Henry will note for the subtypes. So, be sure to grab that free mini course for those lists of foods to eat more of so that you can feel more nourished, then you don't have to take notes as well.
So I'll pass it over to Henry now for the lesson.
Henry: When we think about depression and recovery from depression, a lot of people think about brain chemistry, and I do too. It's part of my training and part of my practice. I also think that while brain chemistry is important, it's not everything. It's not going to, by itself, solve all of the different factors that go into something as complex as depression.
But, it is part of it. And it's a part of mood that we really can't go unaddressed. We've got to do something about it. And what I really like to think about is, what does your body need in order to do it's job, as it's designed to do. And the only way for that to happen is to get the nutrients into your body that your cells need in order to produce energy or to produce brain chemicals, the neurotransmitters.
So you know what medications do, medications for depression, they manipulate neurotransmitters in ways that can be helpful. What the nutritional supplements do and the natural therapies is they try to work with one of the major systems like the GABA or serotonin system in ways that also can be helpful.
And in some sense, they're trying to maybe overcome some problems with diet or with digestion or just imbalances that have occurred in ways that hopefully are really helpful and supportive. But it really all starts with your diet. And there's not any really good way to compensate for that if your diet is lacking in those nutrients or your digestion is such that even if you eat the good healthy foods with all those nutrients in it that you're not absorbing or processing it properly, then it's really, really hard to keep good healthy brain chemical balance.
Also, remember that mood problems and anxiety problems are not only related to what's going on in the brain. The stress system from the adrenal glands has a lot to say about this. What's happening with your digestive tract. And remember 90 percent of your serotonin is in your gut. That has a big impact on mood.
Your body's ability to produce energy, which has a huge bearing on your diet, that has a lot to do with mood. So there's just no getting around it. This is important for a lot of different reasons.
Now, I know that probably most of you have at one time or another been on a diet. Maybe it's to lose weight or maybe it's because of some specific health problem. And I know that you're aware that there are a lot of very different diets out there that are almost completely contradictory to one another. And also many people, many experts, supposed experts are espousing one particular approach. If everybody does this, then all these health problems will go away.
Now, I actually think that there's a lot of really great, solid information out there right now, but it often conflicts with other great, solid sources of information. Even though I really read a lot about this, and I consider myself to be, you know, fairly well informed, I get confused. There's just so much out there, it's so overwhelming in a sense. And you can read from one place that low fat diets, for example, are the way to go for health, and in another place that a high fat diet and a really low carb diet is the way to go for health.
My point is that I don't believe that one diet is right for everybody. I don't believe that one size fits all. Ideally, each one of us would find the diet that we are best suited to. And we would, you know, really adhere to that and eat in ways that keep our body really feeling balanced and really well nourished.
But that's gotten harder to do. I think for a lot of reasons. I think it's hard in part because whether you think of it this way or not, today we eat a lot less foods, less variety of foods than our ancestors did. Yes, we have ample supplies of food, most of us do. Supermarkets, you know, they carry all these different kind of packaged foods, but they're drawn typically from just a smaller number of raw ingredients. And a lot of times those ingredients have been processed in ways that take the nutrients out of them. So if we were to eat more like our ancestors and more the way that we have evolved, we would be eating a much wider variety of different food sources, we would eat very differently depending on the time of year because different things are available at different times of year, and we would just really mix it up.
We'd have very different approaches to diet depending on where we lived and what foods were available. Now, we don't have to do that, but we can learn some lessons from nature and learn some lessons from our own history, along with some really good lessons from current science. So I want to talk a little bit about some basic things that I think would be helpful for everybody to do with diet, regardless of what kind of pattern of depression you have. And then I want to try to hone in a little bit and we'll provide some extra resources to supplement this on how you might think about eating differently depending on which of those
subtypes you have .
So first, some of the basics that I think we can all benefit from.
First off, even though this isn't technically food related, I think that most of us need to drink more water. Just plain, pure water. If we were really, really good about hydrating ourselves through the day, I think that most of us would feel a little more alert, a little more energized, be able to think more clearly, and I do think it has a bearing on mood. So the way I like to think about this is not just in terms of how many glasses of water you drink per day, but trying to keep your body so well hydrated throughout the day that you're always, you know, having to go to the bathroom to relieve yourself, that you're producing a good amount of urine.
You're getting rid of those toxins and you're really keeping your brain well hydrated so it can do its job throughout the day. I'll just tell you what I do, and I've kind of, learned this over the years and tried different things, but I drink at least one, if not two glasses of really pure fresh water when I first get up in the morning. And then, throughout the day, right up until about supper time, I'm just drinking water throughout the day.
I'm just sipping it. And I actually like to have warm or hot water. I think that it's kind of soothing to have the warmth and sort of grounding for me. I also believe that It might get absorbed a little better if you sip water throughout the day and especially if you have it warm or hot. I'm not a big fan of drinking a lot of juices or sodas.
I think you're getting a lot of extra calories without a lot of extra benefit, even if it's a good healthy juice source. There's exceptions to that, if you're a juicer you get a lot of good vegetable juices, I think that's that's a really good source of vitamins and nutrients, but by and large get your fluid with water. I also believe that it makes sense not to drink a lot of fluid while you're eating. I'm a believer in Ayurvedic approach to this in in the sense that if you dilute your gastric juices, so to speak, by adding a lot of fluids at mealtime, you're just not digesting quite as effectively. So I think that a really good strategy for that is to have a full glass of water about a half hour or so before your meal and then don't drink a lot, if any, during your meal. And then, after you've eaten an hour or so later, get back to your sipping water
throughout the day.
Next, we could all probably reduce processed foods and increase our fiber. Many people in, uh, the modern world,
we have shifted our food, our calorie sources a little too much toward carbohydrates.
So I don't necessarily think that we all need to go no carb or no grain or paleo. For some people that might be appropriate, and we'll get back to that later, but I do think for most of us, not eating too many simple calories that come from the simple carbs is really a good idea. So we need to get more of our calories from foods that still have fiber. So if you're eating carbs, you know, the good healthy carbs, that means you're eating things that have not been processed. So, they're whole, whole grains, whole beans or legumes, and root vegetables. Things that are still fibrous.
Actually, I think a lot of our health problems and probably a lot of our mood problems could be solved or improved simply by having a lot more naturally occurring fiber in our diet.
I also think that it makes sense, for people with mood problems to really think about what do you need to do to stabilize your blood sugar.
Keeping your blood sugar steady or even is really protective of brain function, especially as you age. One of the greatest risks for memory problems with aging or just, you know, kind of damaging our cognition and memory is by having the blood sugar level fluctuate too much, especially getting a little bit too high of a blood sugar, really, really hard on the brain doesn't tolerate that well.
So you want to take measures to keep your blood sugar steady and even. And for most of us, that means eating foods that have protein in them. So, really, almost any meal or snack, you ought to try to include some protein. Doesn't have to be a lot, but that does help to keep blood sugar more steady and having complex carbs that still have fiber in them.
That's really good at stabilizing blood sugar.
Next , remember, the brain is made, at least the brain cells,
the cell membranes are made largely of fats and we've got to have the right kind of healthy fats in order for those cell membranes to work properly. So what you really want to do is to think about adding sources of omega 3, good, healthy omega 3 fats.
Where do you get that? You get it in seafood. You get it in nuts and you get it in seeds. If you need to, this is a really good reason to think about supplementation. But again, ideally you're going to get this in your diet. I also think it's helpful to add some other additional fats to your foods. Like to your meals with your cooking or adding to, you know, hot cereals or something where you have maybe a really, really good quality natural butter or ghee or olive oil or avocado oil, avocados themselves, I think, are a really great source. So don't skimp overly much on the fats. Yes, you don't want red meat kind of fat or a lot of, kind of unhealthy fats that might increase your cholesterol levels, but you don't want to eliminate them completely either.
Let's talk about those subtypes and some foods to consider for each one.
If you have an anxious mood pattern, what you really want to be thinking about in terms of brain chemistry is how do I support serotonin. You can do that really well through choosing certain foods. We have a list of serotonin boosting foods that you can refer to. But really simply put, you want to get foods that have a good source of tryptophan in them.
Tryptophan is the building block for serotonin. And then, you want your blood sugar to stay so stable that the tryptophan is able to get into your brain where it needs to be in order to make the serotonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid. It's found in protein-based foods.
Some people think that you get really relaxed after Thanksgiving dinner because you've had turkey. Might be true. It also might be that you've just eaten so many calories you can't stay awake. But, turkey is a good source of tryptophan. Dairy products are a good source. And also some nuts and seeds have good sources of tryptophan.
So in order to get tryptophan, you don't really want a big protein meal, like a big steak or a burger or something. Because they have so many other amino acids in them, these concentrated meat sources, that the tryptophan kind of gets lost in the shuffle. It's sort of the runt of the litter, so it doesn't get into the brain where it needs to be if it's got all this competition.
So kind of a modest amount of protein, I think actually for this subtype, eating a modified vegetarian diet would be a great strategy. Now you also, with this pattern, you want to get foods that have a lot of the complex carbs with lots of fiber. And you also generally want to have foods that are warm and kind of moist and soothing.
So think about how you would eat in the fall or winter, generally. If you went with your, gut, so to speak, you would eat foods that are comfort foods. That are kind of warm and soothing. That's what you want to focus on if you have the anxious mood pattern.
If you have more of an agitated mood state, you really want to reduce the amount of protein that you get. Because the high protein foods tend to get turned into those overstimulating neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. So an agitated mood state, this is a case where you might actually want to eat vegetarian or even vegan for a while, where you really reduce your concentrated protein sources and you eat foods that are kind of cooling.
So this is a really good instance where you want to get a lot of the healthy fats. You know, like, uh, coconut oil or avocado oil, nuts and seeds, omega 3s. And you want to eat foods that you might gravitate towards in the middle of the summer. So lots of fresh greens, you know, good, big, fresh salads, maybe some, uh, summery fruits if they're available to you. And also eating kind of light, not eating a lot of heavy foods, but eating a little bit lighter.
And then if you have more of a sluggish pattern, this is where you might need more of the stimulation from a higher protein diet. I think if you have a sluggish mood pattern and are having trouble with your weight, it might really be good for you to do a paleo or a modified paleo diet where you do eliminate or at least reduce the amount of grains or carbohydrates that you eat. Even if you don't have the gluten sensitivity.
Just eating a little bit less of those starchy foods might be good for you, at least for a while. So you want to gravitate a little more towards the foods that are higher concentration of protein, have a lot less of the simple carbs or refined carbs and again eating foods that have a lot of water in them so a lot of fresh greens and salads and kind of a more healthy vegetables coupled with a good high quality protein source.
So we can always keep working on diet. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect. I actually want to emphasize this. This is not about perfection. Do not feel that you have to get too rigid about any of these approaches toward eating. I think rigidity is kind of the enemy of, of a really good high quality mood.
Just think about it this way, that if you make the choices that are really healthier for you most of the time, doesn't have to be every time, but most of the time, you are moving in the direction of greater health, greater balance. Over time, I think when you start feeling better, you're going to find that, in fact, yeah, I want to make this healthy choice more of the time, because this is really good.
So pay attention, you know, really notice, how do I feel an hour or two after eating certain foods? Is this really serving me? Is this working for me? Does it fit with my body or not? And use that insight, that information to keep guiding you. And keep going back to the other information we provided and look at your food choices and ways to really create your own resilient diet.
Thanks for joining us!: Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit JoyLab.coach to learn more about the full Joy Lab program. Be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Please remember that this content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice and is not a replacement for advice and treatment from a medical professional. Please consult your doctor or other qualified health professional before beginning any diet change, supplement, or lifestyle program.
Please see our terms for more information.