Depression is debilitating. It is a dreadful feeling and is becoming more and more common in today’s highly stressed society. The good news is that depression IS controllable! While there are many factors that affect mood, food is one of the most often overlooked. This article outlines some of the most common foods that may help with depression as well as some that you should avoid.
What is depression?
Depression ranges in severity but in general involves low mood and/or loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities, as well as other symptoms. The symptoms are experienced most days and last for at least two weeks. Symptoms of depression interfere with all areas of a person’s life, including work and social relationships. Depression can be described as mild, moderate or severe; melancholic or psychotic. Some of the symptoms include:
Feelings such as: sad, miserable, unhappy, irritable, overwhelmed, lacking in confidence, indecisive, disappointed, unable to concentrate.
Thoughts such as “I’m a failure, I’m worthless, “things will never change”, “Life’s not worth living”, “There is nothing good in my life”, etc.
Behaviours such as: withdrawing from close family and friends, stopping usual activities or going out, rely on alcohol or sedatives, not getting work done.
Physical symptoms such as: being tired all the time, feeling sick and ‘run down’, frequent headaches, stomach or muscle pains, churning gut, sleep problems, loss of appetite, significant weight loss or gain.
Medication, mindfulness, counselling, diet and exercise are all great resources to aid depression. Here I provide some tips on how what you eat (and do not eat) may help however please seek professional help if you believe you are suffering from depression.
Foods to Include:
- Good fats – Healthy fats are essential for brain health and could play a role in fighting depression. Good fats help control your blood sugar levels preventing highs and lows that can lead to those slumps. Some examples of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocado and fatty fish.
- Fermented Foods – Certain live bacteria and yeasts, known as probiotics can aid in improving mood. There is a lot of talk about the link between digestive and brain health as many of the mood boosting hormones such as serotonin are produced in the gut. By keeping your gut healthy and reducing inflammation you may find your feelings of depression lessen. Examples of fermented foods include kimchi and kefir.
- Spinach and other green leafy vegetables that are rich in folate. Low folate levels have been linked to depressive symptoms and poor response to antidepressants. Serotonin has also been shown to rise with foods rich in folate which gives you those feel-good highs 😊
- Dark Chocolate – Yes! Another reason to include dark chocolate in the diet. Cocoa beans contain flavonoids, plant-based nutrients that are powerful antioxidants and can improve mood. Optfor pure dark chocolate (at least 70%) that does not contain added sugars and milk.
- Turkey – Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan which signals the brain to release the feel-good chemical serotonin. It is also high in protein so again keeping those blood sugar levels stable avoiding crashes leading to low mood and low energy.
- Bananas – Banana’s are a great sources of tyrosine, an amino acid that produces the ‘happy hormone’ dopamine. Dopamine is in control of your brain’s pleasure centres.
- Sweet potatoes and other orange vegetables such as carrot and pumpkin. These vegetables get their orange colour from carotenoids, a type of antioxidant that may be helpful in warding off depression and increasing optimism. The orange vegetables are also slightly sweeter so are more satisfying to the palate! I love me a good sweet potato mash.
- Brown rice and other whole grains-Those that can tolerate gluten may benefit from whole grain foods such as brown rice, whole grain pastas and breads. True whole grains (some “whole grain foods” still contain processed ingredients) have several benefits for those with depression:
- Whole grain is rich in magnesium, and magnesium deficiency may lead to depression.
- Whole grain contains tryptophan, which becomes serotonin – a calming neurotransmitter.
- Whole grains create healthy energy while reducing hunger and keeping blood sugar levels even.
Foods to Avoid:
There are foods that help depression, but just as important is making sure that you’re not eating foods that contribute to depression,
- Caffeine – If you are hooked on your morning coffee (and late morning, afternoon, evening coffee ha ha) this may be contributing to your mood. This doesn’t just stop at coffee, but also includes energy drinks, tea or other caffeinated substances. The side effects of excessive caffeine consumption can include heart palpitations, shaking and difficulty sleeping. Even if you don’t experience any of these straight away, they could still affect your body hours later.
- Food Additives – Food additives are becoming more and more prevalent in the foods we eat today. They are added to everything! Because they are so common, we often don’t realise we are eating them or that they are even bad for us. The ones that could trigger depression include:
- Aspartame – Also known as Sweetener (951), aspartame is used to replace sugar in a number of products, from “sugar free” soft drinks to gums and other tabletop sweeteners. Researchers have found link regular consumption of aspartame with several health conditions, including depression.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – HFCS is a highly refined sweetener that can be found in most processed foods. Just like aspartame, it is considered a contributing factor to several illnesses.
- MSG – This is an amino acid that is used as a flavour enhancer in much more than the local Chinese takeaway! It can also be found in soups, dressings, packaged snack foods and frozen foods. MSG is an excitotoxin which over excites cells to the point of damage. Regular consumption is known to trigger depression, headaches and fatigue.
- Food Dyes – Food dyes are sometimes added to soft drinks, salad dressings, fruit juices and cheese without us even realizing it. Many people have an intolerance to them and consumption over time can disrupt normal nervous system function, which may increase the symptoms of depression.
- Sugar – It is becoming more apparent that sugar is in almost everything! After eating sugar, you will induce a rise in blood sugars creating a little burst of energy and then a big drop leaving you tired, moody and anxious. This creates a rollercoaster of ups and downs trying to keep that high. Instead of reaching for that biscuit or chocolate, choose a snack filled with proteins or fats such as a boiled egg or an apple with almond butter to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
- Take-away and junk foods – Sometimes when we are feeling depressed often our motivation to cook is non-existent. Instead we drive to the local takeaway shop and grab some fish and chips or uber in something. Take-away will often contain many of the ingredients listed above such as sugar, MSG, preservatives and possibly Trans fatty acids which have a detrimental effect on your health.
- Alcohol – Alcohol is a depressant and interferes with the production and use of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. Alcohol also negatively affects your metabolism. It can affect your blood sugar levels and cause dehydration which can lead to a restless sleep if drunk before bed. Alcohol can often be used to wind down when you are feeling stressed however you would be better off replacing it with some exercise, meditation or a relaxing bath.
So there you have it. While food may not be the cure it will definitely contribute to your feelings of depression of sadness and something everyone can implement today!
For more information or a consultation with Kasey (Nutritionist), please contact us to arrange an appointment. Don’t forget Kasey is offering 20% off her personalised 5 week food programs during September 2019! So BOOK NOW!