Diet and depression (mental illness, in general) are more closely related than you might have thought. If you’ve ever wondered why your mental health clinician is asking if you’ve tried the Mediterranean diet, this article may help you understand why.
Anyone can feel blue from time to time. Bad news happens, and it does so often. Bad news may come in the form of relationship problems, breakups, job loss, health problems, loss of loved ones or pets, etc. How long it takes to bounce back from a case of “the blues” varies from individual to individual, but if the blueness and sadness come to stay for an extended period of time, it’s time to look at some other factors.
Here’s something you may have never considered: The holidays are on their way. Are you prone to sink into a depressive funk during “the most wonderful time of the year?” What are you eating? If you’re like many people, you probably go on an annual diet healthy with sugary treats. Yes, they are delicious, but most of these treats, are devoid of many significant nutrients that can improve your mood, and help to manage depression effectively.
Most people are not sure whether or not unhealthy food can lead to depression or if it’s the other way around. To help you better with understanding nutrition and its impact on your mental health, know that what we consume every day affects our health in general. To take the nutrition topic a bit further, nutritional psychiatrists will tell you that there is a definitive link between food, mental health, and mental status, particularly when clinical depression is involved.
What’s the Deal with Depression?
Depression seems like one of those things that, even if you can’t clearly define it, you know it when you see it (or feel it, in this case). What is it, exactly?
Depression is a mental illness driven by consistently negative thinking and behavior. It is also a problem all around the world, not just in the West. Mental illness can interfere with an individual’s capacity to undergo routine, daily activities, and to interact effectively with others. Studies show that feelings of being worthless and hopeless associated with mental illness are directly tied to suicide rates.
Depression in particular can become so debilitating that it impedes quality of life, and can be the catalyst for substance abuse, as well as for subpar work and school performance.
The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that one in four adults and one in ten children cope with mental illness in the United States.
In the U.S., suicide takes about 40,000 lives annually, ranking as the 10thleading cause of death.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that mental illness is the cause behind 40% of all disabilities worldwide.
By 2020, major depressive disorder will dominate as the leading cause of disability for women and children around the world.
Trust Your Gut
Microorganisms produce countless neurochemicals (brain chemicals). These neurochemicals, generated by your stomach bacteria, have a significant impact on your mood and other neurologic functions. What you eat affects your mood, so be sure to consume plenty of foods that enhance your digestive health, such as Lactobaccilli (from the lactic acid bacteria group) and Bifidobacteria (some bifidobacteria are used as probiotics).
Speaking of mood, keep in mind that aspartame (used to sweeten diet beverages) is a toxicant that has been directly linked to depression. Aspartame breaks down into smaller molecules that deplete serotonin levels (the “feel good” hormone). Serotonin is a critical neurochemical “messenger” that regulates your appetite and mood.
Foods that Fight Depression
Your newest homework assignment is to start paying better attention to what you consume. Stick with foods that promote healthy sleep, foster a sense of wellness, and, well, that help boost your mood.
There are countless healthy foods that can function as natural antidepressants. As mentioned above, serotonin is a hormone that can have a significant impact on your health and mood. Foods such as chickpeas and turkey are rich in tryptophan which promotes serotonin production.
You should also consume:
Foods with Vitamin B12 and folate, to help prevent mood disorders and dementia (e.g., beetroot, lentils, almonds, spinach, chicken, fish (for B12), and liver (for folate))
Foods high in Vitamin D will help against mood disorders (e.g., sunlight, juices, breads, milk, breakfast cereal, high-quality supplements)
Foods with selenium to fight depression (e.g., cod, walnuts, poultry, Brazil nuts)
Don’t forget your Omega-3 fatty acids, critical for cognitive and behavioral function. Omega-3 fat deficiencies can pave the way for a number of health problems, including depression and mood swings (e.g., cod, salmon, haddock, halibut, nut oils, algae, high-quality supplements)
Dark chocolate! Dark chocolate can bolster your mood by increasing endorphins in the brain to promote a sense of overall health and well-being.
In addition to eating healthy and drinking plenty of water every day, you should also undertake regular physical activity/exercise. Exercise will boost your metabolism, soothe tension and anxiety, and enhance your overall mood.
Avoid these Foods
By now, you may be starting to figure out that while some foods are good for you and your mental health, others are … not so good.
To help keep your mood on the up and up, stay away from the following:
High-calorie/low nutrient foods. Processed, refined sugars will give you a short-lived, high-energy boost. Sweets raise the levels of sugar in your blood, increase your capacity for fat storage, and set you up for a jolt-now-crash-and-burn-later dynamic. Energy levels are best maintained when you you’re your blood sugar level as consistently low as possible.
Caffeine. Not just diet beverages, but caffeinated beverages also are known to be serotonin killers. Caffeine puts you at higher risk for disrupted sleep, depression, and anxiety. Go easy on your consumption of coffee, tea, and even hot cocoa, and get into the habit of drinking them without any sweeteners.
Alcohol. Imbibing the occasional drink is good (and can even be physiologically healthy for you), but you should carefully limit your intake of alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption depletes serotonin levels and can lead to panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.
Diet and exercise alone are likely not enough for you to effectively manage a case of clinical depression, so be sure to consult with a mental health professional for lasting bouts of depression.
Do you deal with ongoing depressive moods and feelings of hopelessness? You’re not alone. You can treat and manage mental health disorders, and learn to live a healthy, productive life. But you need to take the first step. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Reach out to our expert team at Solara Mental Healthat 844-600-9747.