You may be able to Bant your way to happier days and more restful nightsBy Tamzyn Murphy Campbell
BSc, BSc Med(Hons) Human Nutrition and Dietetics, RD
Paediatric and adult psychiatrist and speaker at the LCHF Convention earlier this year, Dr Ann Childers , is a firm believer that a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) lifestyle can enhance mood and sleep. After falling ill, being diagnosed with osteoporosis and suffering a minor stroke, Dr Childers realised that something was terribly amiss. She says that changing from a very low-fat diet to a LCHF, real food-based diet made all the difference 1. Not only did she become healthier, but she felt happier too. Her mood became more stable and she slept better. After recommending these lifestyle changes to her patients Dr Childers soon saw similar results: “once we get the nutrition and sleep healthy and established, there [is not] very much left to do with medication” 1. Preliminary research is emerging in support of what Dr Childers and her patients experience in practice every day. 2
Research indicates that eating processed foods, high in refined carbohydrates, (such as sweetened beverages, sweets, fast food, and pastries) may increase your risk of becoming depressed 2. A study looking at children and adolescents found that those who ate junk food were more distressed and violent 3. Another study found that students who ate unhealthy foods felt more down in the dumps and stressed 4. Eating real foods (e.g. fresh fruit, salads, vegetables, fish/seafood), on the other hand, was linked to happier mood and less perceived stress 4. The link between depressed mood and junk food is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation though - it’s difficult to know whether depressed mood and stress causes people to turn to junk foods, or whether eating junk food makes people depressed and stressed. Current evidence indicates that it likely works both ways.
Obesity is related to increased risk of depression 5. And losing weight makes overweight people feel happier 5. Evidence indicates that low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets may be superior to conventional low-fat, calorie restricted diets for weight loss (probably due to LCHF’s penchant for making people feel less hungry and therefore eat less) 6. This weight loss in turn equates to better mood. However, when studies artificially match calorie consumption in people following low-fat, high-carb diets and those following LCHF diets, weight loss results are similar, as are changes in mood 6,7. This means that the weight loss, rather than the fat or carbohydrate content of the diet, is responsible for the improvements in mood. However, Dr Childers’ begs to differ: “Once people start stocking up on the fats in their diets, they actually feel better. The mood seems to level out and they sleep better.”1
Unlike the fat and carbohydrate content of the diet, sufficient dietary protein does seem to elevate mood 8. One study found that Japanese men who ate too little protein stood a greater chance of being depressed 8. Another study found that low-carb, high protein diets improved depression and self-esteem in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) 9.
“I think that the lower we go on fat and protein, the less satisfied we are and the more likely we’re going to have mood swings; because along with extreme hunger comes a mood swing,” explains Dr Childers. “In fact some people call it being ‘hangry’ – being both hungry and angry at the same time.”
In addition to the mood lifting protein content of animal foods (such as meat, poultry, organ meats, fish and eggs), these foods supply vitamin B12, a key mood-boosting nutrient that’s virtually absent from non-animal-derived foods . Add brightly coloured vegetables to your protein power-houses to ensure you’re getting ample folate, another mood-elevating vitamin, and you’re likely to feel even happier10.
What you eat can affect how quickly you fall asleep, as well as your sleep quality. Eating high glycaemic index, refined carbohydrate foods (like confectionary) appears to make people fall asleep more quickly 11. However, once asleep, these foods may worsen sleep quality 12. Conversely, eating healthy, real foods, such as vegetables and fish, seem to make people sleep better 12. One study found that a very low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (containing less than 50g carbs per day) increases stage 4 slow wave (deep) sleep (which promotes brain recovery and restoration 13), while reducing rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep (also known as dreaming sleep) 11.
To stabilise and elevate mood and improve sleep Dr Childers suggests that people change one meal at first: breakfast. She recommends a very low carb, ketogenic breakfast of bacon, eggs, pasture-fed butter and vegetables that grow above the ground. In her experience this one change can make all the difference to people’s mood, “smoothing things out” or making for a more stable mood throughout the day. Her core message is “to stop eating processed food” and “start eating a whole food diet”, which she says is “much safer” and “predates our obesity and diabetes epidemics.” 1
If mood and sleep disorders are something you are currently suffering with and you want to find out more about the LCHF lifestyle and how you can take the first steps to implement this in your own life, join our Online Program