Make no mistake, what you eat CAN and DOES affect your mood - science proves that! Many people are unwittingly "self-medicating" with carbohydrates and sugar to satisfy the cravings their body is sending them trying to correct subtle long-term nutrient deficiencies that often go unnoticed. Food substances affect neurotransmitters and the most popular one linked to depression is serotonin. Those with depression have altered brain chemistry and have trouble metabolizing serotonin. Carbohydrates and sugar rapidly boost levels of serotonin in the brain. Hmm, that might explain those severe cravings and the uncontrollable desire to overeat foods that aren't always good for us! Here are some surprising alternatives that are better for you (because they're natural), work better in the long run and have no nasty side effects.

1. Caffeine

If you consume caffeine you don't need to be reminded how good it makes you feel! If you're not a fan, here are some reasons you should consider becoming one. Studies show that caffeine has the power to produce heightened feelings of well-being and even euphoria in some. No wonder so many people are addicted! Experts say that small doses of caffeine daily can improve performance and mood in those with mild depression. Be careful though, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect - anxiety, sleep disturbances and diminished feelings of well-being. Aim for a maximum of two cups per day before 3pm

2. Spinach

Spinach has been and always will be good for you, and here is another reason to eat lots of it - their rich folic acid content. Medical literature is in agreement that folic acid (folate) deficiency fosters psychiatric disorders, namely depression. Many people who thought they were depressed were actually just deficient in folate, and when treated as such, became cured of all depressive symptoms. In addition to this evidence, people who were intentionally deprived of folic acid lapsed into mild depression within five months of being deficient however, they returned to normal only three days after being supplemented with folic acid. As little as 200mg of folic acid can help with mild depression and is found in large quantities in foods such as spinach and lentils. If too much is taken, folic acid can be toxic so please be careful and decide on a healthy dose with your doctor.

 3. Brazil Nuts

 Recent evidence has emerged regarding the benefits of selenium on improving mood. In a controlled study which lasted 12 months, one group was given 100mcg of selenium per day whilst the other group was given a placebo.  Six months into the trial the groups switched to the opposite pill. Surprisingly, the results showed that when supplemented with selenium the subject's mood improved significantly; they were more composed, agreeable, elated, confident, clearheaded and energetic. A single brazil nut supplies more than enough selenium to ensure you don't become deficient. Have six nuts and rapidly boost selenium levels in your blood by 100-350 per cent but don't overdo it, selenium can be toxic in high doses. Seafood also contains higher levels of selenium but the quantity in a brazil nut is far superior.

4. Garlic

German researchers at the University of Hanover used garlic to test its effects on people with high cholesterol. They were pleasantly surprised when they found that their subjects experienced less fatigue, sensitivity, anxiety, irritability and agitation whilst taking part in the study. This lift in mood supplied by something so good for you sharply contrasts the negative side effects of most pharmaceutical drugs. Maybe garlic has become so popular and we use it so much in our cooking because of the positive effect it has on our feelings of well-being. It is no surprise then that garlic supplements are now the best-selling over-the-counter "drug" in Germany. I'm thinking we should definitely follow suit and increase the amount of garlic we consume. Try having it raw (it's more beneficial that way) with tomato paste and sour cream on the cracker of your choice - you won't regret it! 

 5. Chilli Pepper

Chilli peppers are a good choice if you want a quick and temporary rush of endorphins running through your brain. The reason why this happens is still unknown but the "burn" you feel when eating a hot chilli is enough to cause the nerve endings of your tongue and mouth to send false pain signals to your brain. Because your body perceives injury it attempts to protect your body by secreting natural painkillers (endorphins) that cause a high. Each bite of pepper builds upon the last inciting further release of endorphins eventually leading to an enjoyable rush. Some people can even get addicted to this effect and eat hotter and hotter peppers because they make them feel so good. Try adding chilli peppers to your recipes whenever you need to feel better.

So give some natural remedies a try first if you're not so convinced you should be heading straight for the anti-depressants. Sometimes depression is really just a vitamin or mineral deficiency masked by depressive symptoms and if that is the case, get the necessary tests and make sure there isn't a healthier alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. Who knows, you might save yourself from the nasty side effects that are inevitable when taking man-made drugs, and instead could use the money to buy the mood-boosting foods listed above. Here's to a happier you!

Now...where is my coffee cup...