It is not uncommon when someone is depressed to experience changes in their appetite, whether it be an increase or decrease in appetite, as well as general changes in the amount and quality of the food a person eats, such as eating more junk food and/or drinking more alcohol. In fact, appetite and weight change are one of the symptoms that health professionals use to make a diagnosis of depression in an individual.
Unfortunately, changes in a person’s diet are likely to further compound the intensity of the depression experienced and impede the recovery process. For example, eating more junk food is likely to increase a person’s level of fatigue and mood swings and lead to a decrease in concentration, decision making ability, self worth and activity levels. Food is obviously essential to good physical and mental health and wellbeing. So it makes sense that consideration of a person’s diet and eating habits is adopted as part of the treatment regime for depression.
As well as impacting on the recovery from depression, an unhealthy diet may also contribute to the development of depression. Complex carbohydrates such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds etc are essential for good mental health. Researchers have found that certain foods are likely to increase Serotonin levels in the brain. Seratonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain and low Seratonin levels have been linked with the development of depression. In fact, many antidepressants, particularly the SSRI’s (Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors), work by increasing Seratonin levels in the brain.
So….. what sorts of foods may be helpful for depression?
1. Unprocessed and unrefined carbohydrates. Eg fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and beans. Where possible, choose local fresh fruits and vegetables and eat them either raw or steamed to get maximum benefit.Whole grains include whole grains, brown rice and unprocessed cereals.
2. Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s). Increasing Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet has been found to improve depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in flaxseeds/flaxseed oil, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines etc., and whole grains.
3. Eggs and dairy. Eg. Milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt. Eggs and dairy are excellent sources of protein.
Note: If you are unable to eat dairy, choose non dairy foods such as soy, rice or almond milk; cheese and yoghurt made from these nondairy products; and non dairy desserts.
4. Organic meats and poultry.
5. Fish and shellfish. These products are an excellent source of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. It is best to choose ‘wild’ fish rather than farm-raised fish as some research indicates the latter have more contaminants. Mercury levels?
Unhelpful Foods and diets
1. Junk food
2. Alcohol (although the occasional glass of red wine is ok. Alcohol is best to be avoided if you find it difficult to stick to one glass as it is a depressant and may also interfere with antidepressant medication).
4. Low or no carbohydrate diets
5. Hydrogenated fats. These are manufactured fats and they interfere with fatty acid metabolism in the body. They are found in margarines, potato and corn chips, cookies, baked goods, and fast foods.
6. Processed and refined carbohydrates, eg. White bread, white flour, white rice, sugar.
8. Chemical food additives such as flavourings, preservatives, colours and sweeteners (aspartame).
The following are two fantastic resources to find out more about how the effects and links between nutrition and depression.
1. The Ultramind Solution by Dr Mark Hyman.
2. What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Depression by Michael Schachter.
Please note: The above article sourced the information from the 2 books listed above.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended as a substitute for consulting with a medical professional. Before making any changes in your health regime, please consult your doctor. Any application of the ideas and information contained in this article, is at the readers sole discretion and risk.
Food, Mood and Attitude © 2011