In a given year approximately 17.1 million American adults suffer from a major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Many things can contribute to being depressed. While it’s just one piece of the puzzle, there is actually a link between your diet and depression.
It’s not a cure-all, but just changing what you eat can help alleviate some of the symptoms if you or a loved one is depressed.
Here’s more about what depression is, how your diet and depression are connected, and some foods that can help fight it.
What Is Depression?
Major depressive disorder is a serious mental illness that negatively impacts how you feel, think, and act. Symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling sad
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Changes in eating habits (like lack of appetite or overeating)
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Feeling fatigued
- A sense of worthlessness
- Having trouble thinking or making decisions
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must persist for at least two weeks.
There are several possible causes for major depressive disorder. It could be triggered by a major life event or some kind of psychological or chemical issue you’re experiencing.
You may be at an increased risk if you have a family history of depression, a history of other mental health disorders, abuse alcohol or other drugs, suffer from serious chronic illnesses, or have personality traits like low self-esteem or being pessimistic.
It’s important to not confuse major depressive disorder with general sadness or grief. A normal reaction to a major life event such as the death of a loved one or the ending of a relationship is to feel depressed or sad, but that does not necessarily constitute a major depressive disorder.
For example, when you’re grieving those feelings of sorrow tend to come in waves mixed with periods of happy memories. With depression, your mood will be down for the majority of the time over a period of two weeks or more.
The Link Between Diet and Depression
When it comes to treating depression, self-care can be just as important as using medications. Living a healthy lifestyle has shown it produces benefits in basically all aspects of your overall health, like helping to prevent things such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia.
As the Harvard Health Blog explains it, your brain needs constant fueling. That fuel is provided by the food you eat.
When you eat a healthy diet, your brain is firing on all cylinders, which helps keep you in a good state of mind. On the other hand, if your diet is high in processed or refined foods your brain function suffers.
Foods for Depression
So what do you need to be eating to get all the benefits a healthy diet has to offer? A good rule to follow is to eat the rainbow. If you’re eating a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables along with healthy proteins and complex carbohydrates, you’re on the right track.
Here are some of the most important nutrients to consider when looking for foods for depression prevention.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These are fats that you can only get by eating them because our bodies don’t produce them naturally. One of the best places to get omega-3’s is oily fish like salmon, trout, and fresh tuna.
According to the Food For The Brain Foundation, there’s evidence that omega-3 fats are a potent, natural anti-depressant. They say you should eat fish at least twice a week and eat seeds like flax and pumpkin seeds on most days. Flax seeds or flaxseed oil can be used on salads.
There is evidence that people who do not get enough B vitamins are more prone to depression and less likely to be successfully treated using anti-depression medications. Vitamins B12 and B9, also known as folate or folic acid, help your nervous system function properly.
To make sure you’re getting these crucial vitamins, you need to eat things like eggs, meat, poultry, and fish. Folate also comes from leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, whole grains, and dairy products.
The Mediterranean diet is a great plan to follow to make sure you’re hitting the B vitamins. All the legumes, nuts, fruits, dark green veggies, and lean meats have been proven to increase nutrient levels and lower the risk of depression.
Protein is the nutrient that helps your body grow and repair itself. Many animal and plant-based protein sources also contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which your body uses to make serotonin. That’s the hormone that helps control your mood and keeps you happy.
Eating foods that contain tryptophan can help boost your serotonin levels. Those foods include tuna, turkey, chicken, and chickpeas. Other foods that are high in protein, which helps with alertness, include beans, lean meats, dairy and soy products, and peas.
A lot of people love to eat carbs. You have to make sure they’re the right kind of carbohydrates though.
Your body makes simple sugar from the carbohydrates you eat. That sugar helps stimulate your body to make more serotonin. The key here is to eat complex carbs instead of simple carbs.
Complex carbs take your body longer to convert into glucose than simple carbs. Because of that, complex carbs give your brain a more stable and consistent supply of fuel by maintaining blood sugar levels.
To get those complex carbs you’ll need to eat whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Stay away from any sugary snacks and things like old-fashioned white bread.
Other Vitamins and Minerals to Look For
There are quite a few other vitamins and minerals that can help keep your mood bright.
Vitamin D is an important one. You can get it just from getting outside and into the sunlight, but there are also plenty of ways to add it to your diet. Oily fish, dairy, and eggs are all good sources.
Antioxidants are another thing to look for. They can help remove free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can damage cells in your body. They have been linked to illness and aging.
You get antioxidants from vitamins A, C, and E, which are found in plant-based foods.
Some studies have also found that adding foods rich in selenium can help improve your mood. Supplements could prove to be too much, so foods like beans, legumes, lean meat, seafood, and whole grains can provide all that you need.
Foods To Avoid
Just as some foods can help improve your mood, others could make your depression symptoms worse. Here are some things you should steer clear of.
Alcohol is a depressant that slows down your brain function. Many people drink as a means of relaxing or coping with problems. But alcohol can induce stress and anxiety, impacting mental and physical health.
Those who drink to cope with depression may find themselves consuming more and more. Continued drinking can cause more bouts of depression and other complications that turn into a snowball effect.
Processed and Refined Foods
A lot of junk food tends to be high in calories but very low in nutrients. They also tend to have more sugar and simple carbohydrates.
Those same foods will also often be high in trans fats and saturated fats, impairing brain function and making depression symptoms worse.
Additionally, eating these types of foods can make you more likely to deal with weight control issues. Findings show that nearly half of people who suffer from depression are overweight, which shows that maintaining a healthy weight can also help you fight depression.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help
The bottom line here is that living an overall healthy lifestyle is going to help you prevent depression and other mental and physical illnesses. Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and green vegetables to ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to keep running smoothly.
If you need help working out how to eat healthily and lose weight or you’re dealing with depression, make sure you consult your physician. Get the help you need as soon as possible. VIPcare providers would love to help you get on the road to Better Health. Schedule an appointment by calling our clinic nearest to you or fill out our online form to get started. We can’t wait to see you!