Mental Health

A Diet To Ease Your Depression


 Nutrients in foods support the body’s repair

Trying to find a diet to ease depression? Unfortunately, there’s no specific diet that works for depression. No studies have been done that indicate a particular eating plan can ease symptoms of clinical depression.

Still, while certain diets or foods may not ease depression (or put you instantly in a better mood), they may help as part of an overall treatment for depression. There’s more and more research indicating that, in some ways, food and mood are connected.

How can my diet affect my depression?

A Diet To Ease Your Depression

Trying to find a diet to ease depression? Unfortunately, there’s no specific diet that works for depression. No studies have been done that indicate a particular eating plan can ease symptoms of clinical depression.

Still, while certain diets or foods may not ease depression (or put you instantly in a better mood), they may help as part of an overall treatment for depression. There’s more and more research indicating that, in some ways, food and mood are connected.

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How can my diet affect my depression?

Dietary changes can bring about changes in your brain structure, both chemically and physiologically. Those changes can improve mood and mental outlook. Here are 10 tips for eating if you or a loved one is recovering from clinical depression.

1. Eat a diet high in nutrients

Nutrients in foods support the body’s repair, growth, and wellness. Nutrients we all need include vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and even a small amount of fat. A deficiency in any of these nutrients lead to our bodies not working at full capacity – and can even cause illness.

2. Fill your plate with essential antioxidants

Damaging molecules called free radicals are produced in our bodies during normal body functions – and these free radicals contribute to aging and dysfunction. Antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E combat the effects of free radicals. Antioxidants have been shown to tie up these free radicals and take away their destructive power.

Studies show that the brain is particularly at risk for free radical damage. Although there’s no way to stop free radicals completely, we can reduce their destructive effect on the body by eating foods high in powerful antioxidants, including:

  • Sources of beta-carotene: apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, peaches, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato. 
  • Sources of vitamin C: blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomato.
  • Sources of vitamin E: margarine, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ.

3. Eat “smart” carbs for a calming effect

The connection between carbohydrates and mood is linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. We know that eating foods high in carbohydrates (breads, cereal, pasta) raises the level of serotonin in the brain. When serotonin levels rise, we feel a calming effect with less anxiety.

So don’t shun carbs – just make smart choices. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which all contribute healthy carbs as well as fiber.

4. Eat protein-rich foods to boost alertness

Foods rich in protein, like turkey, tuna, or chicken, are rich in an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine boosts levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. This boost helps you feel alert and makes it easier to concentrate. Try to include a protein source in your diet several times a day, especially when you need to clear your mind and boost your energy.

  • Good sources of protein foods that boost alertness: beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soy products, yogurt.

5. Eat a Mediterranean-type diet

The Mediterranean diet is a balanced, healthy eating pattern that includes plenty of fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, legumes, and fish. All of these are important sources of nutrients linked to preventing depression.

A recent Spanish study, using data from 4,211 men and 5,459 women, found that rates of depression tended to increase in men — especially smokers — as folate intake decreased. The same increase occurred for women — especially those who smoked or were physically active — but with a decreased intake of another B-vitamin: B12. This wasn’t the first study to discover an association between these two vitamins and depression. Researchers wonder whether poor nutrient intake leads to depression or whether depression leads people to eat a poor diet.

Folate is found in Mediterranean diet staples like legumes, nuts, many fruits, and particularly dark green vegetables. B12 can be found in all lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.

6. Get plenty of vitamin D

Vitamin D increases levels of serotonin in the brain. Researchers, though, are unsure how much vitamin D is ideal. There are individual differences based on where you live, the time of year, your skin type, and your level of sun exposure. Researchers from the University of Toronto noticed that people who were suffering from depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to improve as their levels of vitamin D in the body increased over the normal course of a year. The recommendation is to try to get about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day from food if possible.

7. Select selenium-rich foods

Selenium is a mineral that is essential to good health. In a small study from Texas Tech University, supplementation of 200 micrograms a day for seven weeks improved mild and moderate depression in 16 elderly participants. Other studies have also reported an association between low selenium intakes and poorer moods.

It is possible to take in too much selenium so that it becomes toxic. But this is unlikely if you’re getting it from foods rather than supplements, and it can’t hurt to make sure you’re eating foods that help you meet the recommended intake for selenium, which is 55 micrograms a day. The good news is that foods rich in selenium are foods we should be eating anyway. They include:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Lean meat (lean pork and beef, skinless chicken and turkey)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Nuts and seeds (particularly brazil nuts)
  • Seafood (oysters, clams, sardines, crab, saltwater fish, and freshwater fish)
  • Whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.)

8. Include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet

We know that omega-3 fatty acids have innumerable health benefits. Recently, scientists have revealed that a deficit of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression. In one study, researchers determined that societies that eat a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids have a higher prevalence of major depressive disorder than societies that get ample omega-3 fatty acids. Other epidemiological studies show that people who infrequently eat fish, which is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, are more likely to suffer from depression.

  • Sources of omega-3 fatty acids: fatty fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad, and tuna), flaxseed, and nuts.
  • Sources alpha-linolenic acid (another type of omega-3 fatty acid): flaxseed, canola oil, soybean oil, walnuts, and dark green leafy vegetables.

9. Watch your lifestyle habits

Many people who are depressed also have problems with alcohol and/or drugs. Not only can alcohol and drugs interfere with mood, sleep, and motivation, they can also affect the effectiveness of your depression medications. In addition, drinks and foods containing caffeine can trigger anxiety and make it difficult to sleep at night. Cutting out caffeine or stopping caffeine after noon each day can also help you get a better night’s sleep.

10. Stay at a healthy weight

Findings published in the journal of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, show a link between obesity and depression, indicating that people who are obese may be more likely to become depressed. In addition, according to this study, people who are depressed are more likely to become obese. Researchers believe the link between obesity and depression may result from physiological changes that occur in the immune system and hormones with depression. If you have a weight problem, talk with your doctor about healthy ways to manage it with diet and exercise.

WebMD Medical Reference

 

SOURCES:

National Institute on Aging: “Don’t Let the Blues Hang Around.”

Mental Health America: “Staying Well When You Have a Mental Illness.”

American Psychiatric Association, Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depression, 2000.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR, American Psychiatric Pub, 2000.

Fieve, R. Bipolar II, Rodale Books, 2006.

Reviewed by Amal Chakraburtty, MD on November 12, 2008

© 2009 WebMD, LLC.  

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