There has been a lot of research into the type of foods we eat and the effects they have on our bodies and wellbeing. Research has also shown that many types of foods can directly affect your mood – making the statement “you are what you eat” more true than we may realise.
Studies have indicated that there is a direct causal link between diet and depression, which is actually good news in that it puts depression sufferers back in control allowing them to treat their conditions naturally. One of the biggest contributors has been found to be Omega-3 fatty acids. It has been shown that Omega-3 fatty acids, along with essential vitamins B6 and B12 are necessary in creating neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that help transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. The neurotransmitter Serotonin is the big player when it comes to depression and a depletion in serotonin is associated with depressive conditions. So it makes sense that we need to eat healthy foods containing vitamins and fatty acids that help the body to create such essential neurotransmitters. In fact, the studies show that a deficiency in Omega-3 and vitamins B6 and B12 are closely associated with depression. Furthermore, studies have indicated that diets rich in whole foods also lessen the risk of depression, while processed foods with additives may actually increase depression.
So what would a healthy eating plan to prevent, or treat depression look like?
- Eat foods high in nutrients. It’s quite obvious: stay away from processed foods that are high in additives and preservatives and low in nutritional value. You need vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and a small amount of fat.
- Eat “smart” carbs for a calming effect. Carbohydrate cravings are often associated with decreased serotonin activity so it is not a good idea to banish carbs altogether. Rather make smart choices and eat healthy complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread, pasta and grains. Stay away from refined sugar in drinks, cakes and sweets as it only spikes your sugar levels and stresses your system in general, leading to a dip in mood later.
- Get your vitamin B6 and B12. Increase your intake of legumes, fish, bananas, avocados, and dark green leafy veggies. These are high in these essential depression preventing vitamins.
- Get your fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential so increase your intake of walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, or oily fish such as mackerel.
- Stay away from caffeine and other stimulants. Lessen your tea, coffee and soda intake as caffeine also stresses the system as a whole and leads to a dip in energy and mood later on.
- Try to eat healthy meals at regular intervals to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Along with getting the right nutrients, you also want to keep your mood stable, if not elevated. Sugar and caffeine may give you a lift temporarily, but they leave the body depleted later, which often leads to a dip in mood.
Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).