Diet in depression: can food really make you feel better?
Antidepressants are usually the first to come to mind when depression arises, but due to their side effects, it is best to seek the best solution: diet.
The role of diet in depression is very vital, though yet to be thoroughly understood.
Foods affect our mood, and allowing the wrong thing to go down your throat can cause you hell; also, having the right food can be a game-changer.
I have researched the relationship between diet and depression and presented them here.
Hang on with me, and you will learn
- The role of diet in depression: how diets affect your mood
- Foods to avoid when depressed
- Diets helpful in depression
The role of diet in depression
Depression is a mental illness, but what link does it have with what we eat?
A random controlled trial that was published in the journal PLOS ONE showed that a group of young adults had reduced symptoms of depression after following a Mediterranean-style pattern of eating for three weeks.
Another study from 2017 proved the role of diet in depression. It showed that people with moderate to severe depression found relief for their symptoms after having nutritional counseling and eating healthy diets for 12 weeks.
These two pieces of research, alongside others, prove that eating healthy diets can help combat depression.
How does diet affect depression?
Diets in depression is significant because of the following reasons:
Your diet affects your guts, and your guts affect your mood
According to a 2019 research published by Nature Microbiology, the bacteria in the guts can affect clinical depression.
This research discovered that the bacteria in the guts produced neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which connect to the brain through the immune system, vagus nerve and others that influence your mood and behavior.
It was also observed that people who experience any type of depression usually have lower amounts of two species of gut bacteria.
The amount of this gut bacteria present is determined by the diets we eat. That is why depression in some people worsens after eating some kind of food for a long time.
Richard Aiken MD, the author of Neurodietetics: The Dietary Science of Human Flourishing, said they are only beginning to understand the impact of microbiomes on emotions, cognition, and behavior.
He also said that diet is an essential factor that impacts the human gut microbiota from infancy to old age.
So, if you are still wondering whether the food you eat can change your mood, yes, but to a certain extent. That is why medical professionals use dietary interventions to regulate psychiatric symptoms.
Diets can affect PMS
Many women record behavioral changes like agitation, low moods, anxiety, etc., with PMS. Though some women may not have low moods until the PMS comes, having healthy diets all the time is still essential.
Research published in Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that 33 women with four different menstrual cycles have lesser bloating, discomforts, and behavioral changes during PMS.
Foods to avoid when depressed
Eating some types of diet in depression can worsen your symptoms.
Some of us are culprits of consuming these diets in depression; I fall for #2 a lot. It feels like they relate to the feeling, so I keep munching till the last bite. But it does not change the fact that they hurt my mood and leaves me more broken than before.
Think of it; alcohol is the first run-on for people when the mood gets low because when you are tipsy, it is hard to remember the state you’re in.
But that doesn’t solve the issue; it makes it worse. Let me prove it.
There is a connection between alcohol and mental problems. Though people try to “drink away the depression”, doing that can trigger new bouts or aggravate the existing depression and anxiety.
Also, according to the National Cancer Institute, taking more than one drink a day increases a person’s risk of some types of cancer. Poor health, in turn, increases depression.
- Processed foods
I can tell you first-hand that it is challenging to prepare food when depressed. The low energy doesn’t even help issues. That is why we commonly turn to convenience foods like junk and fast foods.
Sadly, these are some of the foods to avoid when depressed because they are high in calories and low in nutrients.
They do not nourish the guts, which are responsible for producing some neurotransmitters we need for a happy mood.
According to studies, people who overeat fast food are more prone to depression than those who eat freshly produced healthy foods.
Eating processed foods to combat depression fatigue may boost your energy levels, but only for a short duration.
Indeed, you can have that energy boost from a bar of chocolate, but quickly after that, you will attest to the sharp drop you get.
Instead of opting for the quickly available junk, choose fresh whole foods and nutrient-dense diets for a steady energy supply.
- Refined oils
It is best to avoid fats like trans fat in your diet in depression.
Trans fats are in many refined foods, fats in red and processed meats, corn oil, safflower and other foods rich in omega-6-fatty acids.
According to a study, moderately taking caffeine (esp. coffee) can help depression because of its antioxidant properties and stimulant effect.
Caffeine is present primarily in coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and sodas.
However, another study showed that taking caffeine can increase depression, stress, and anxiety in children of high school age.
When consuming caffeine, it is essential to take it in small amounts and avoid energy drinks and other products with a high amount of caffeine.
Also, do not take caffeine when it gets past midday.
Diets helpful in depression
The body typically produces waste, and molecules called free radicals. When this waste and free radicals are not adequately removed from the body, they cause cell damage, aging, and other problems.
Since free radicals cannot be eradicated from the body, you can develop oxidative stress, resulting in depression and anxiety.
Taking antioxidants helps remove free radicals from the body.
According to a study from 2012, it is suggested that taking more vitamins that provide antioxidants can reduce symptoms of anxiety in people with anxiety disorders.
For more antioxidants, eat foods that contain:
- Vitamin C, which are grapefruits, tomatoes, oranges, peppers, potatoes, broccoli, kiwi, strawberry, etc.
- Beta carotene is found in carrots, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes, peaches, broccoli, apricots, collards, etc.
- Vitamin E which are found in foods like vegetable oils, nut and seeds, margarine, and wheat germ
Generally, you can get antioxidant contents for your diet in depression from fresh plant-based foods like berries, fresh fruits and vegetables, and soy. All these and other plant products have been found to reduce the stress-related symptoms of depression.
Selenium rich foods
There is a study that shows the relationship between hormones and low selenium in the body. To have a healthy mood, as an adult, you should take up to 55 micrograms of selenium a day.
There is no clear evidence on how taking supplements can help, and it is also possible to have too much selenium. To prevent this kind of problem, you just need to focus on eating selenium-rich foods.
- Low-fat dairy products
- Beans and legumes
- Organ meat like liver
- Lean meats like skinless chicken and turkey, lean pork and beef
- Brazil nuts. These Brazil nuts contain a high level of selenium, so you shouldn’t eat them regularly or more than a few at a time because they can lead to selenium toxicity.
- Whole grains like brown rice, whole-grain pasta, oatmeal, etc
- Some seafood like clams, crabs, oysters, saltwater or freshwater fish, and sardines
Omega-3 fatty acids
Some studies, especially a 2015 review, has proven that taking Omega-3 fatty acids is helpful for depressive disorders.
Eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce brain diseases and the risk of mood disorders because it enhances brain functions and possesses the myelin sheath, which protects nerve cells.
In addition to all these benefits, omega-3s in depression diets are very healthy for the heart.
You can find Omega-3 fatty acids in the following
- Flaxseed, chia seeds and flaxseed oil
- Canola and soybean oil
- Coldwater fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, etc
- Dark green leafy vegetables
Earlier in this post, I mentioned the relationship between depression and your guts.
However, I didn’t include that to have a healthy gut, you need to eat more probiotics.
The gut bacteria feed on probiotics to multiply, and having a healthy amount of gut microbiota can reduce your risk of depression and its symptoms.
This is supported by a 2016 meta-analysis that reported that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are very helpful in fighting depression.
Some examples of probiotics are:
- Soy products
- Fruit juices
Locally available probiotics in Nigeria include:
- Kunun zaki
It is believed that including zinc-rich foods in your diet in depression may help influence depression because it affects the body’s ability to taste and boost the immune system.
Some studies suggested that people with depression may have lower zinc levels, and taking supplements can help antidepressants work better.
You can find zinc in foods like:
- Whole grains
- Chicken, pork, and beef
- Pumpkin seeds and nuts
I do not know how safe it is to depend on supplements, but if you want to try zinc supplements, talk to your doctor and buy them in pharmacies and health food stores.
Taking protein-rich foods have been found to boost alertness.
Foods like chickpeas, tuna, turkey are rich in protein and contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce serotonin.
Taking protein regularly at different times of the day can clear your mind and boost energy.
Obtain high protein content from peas, beans, lean beef, fish, milk, soy product, poultry, low-fat cheese and yoghurt.
Every part of your body (even the brain) is packed with vitamin D receptors.
A study showed that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to be depressed. According to another study from the University of Toronto, it was noticed that people who had Seasonal Affective Disorder (a form of depression) usually get better when their body gets a healthy dose of vitamin D, which are primarily available during the summer and spring.
However, these researches have not found the ideal amount of vitamin D, which is needed to boost your mood. But you should know that having too much vitamin D in your body can influence your calcium level and your kidney functioning.
You can use add vitamin D to your diet in depression by eating the following:
- Beef liver
- Oily fish
- Fortified dairy products
Weight and Lifestyle
As much as eating healthy foods can make you feel better, you should know that you are more likely to be depressed if you are obese.
A study and researches back this up said that this could be caused by the changes in your hormones and immune system that are related to depression.
However, it is relieving to know that having healthy diets like those mentioned above can help you maintain a healthy weight. But they should go hand in hand with exercise.
Also, there is evidence that losing weight can reduce your risk of depression.
Mediterranean diets for vitamin B
Having an inadequate amount of folate (vitamin B-9) and vitamin B12 has been found to increase the rate of depression in both men and women.
Several pieces of research back up the connection between vitamins and depression.
However, researchers still can’t tell the direction of this influence: whether having low nutrient levels causes depression or whether depression leads to eating poorly.
Whatever the case may be, trust the Mediterranean diet as the best diet in depression to provide these two types of B vitamins, which are needed for good mood.
You can also get folate from dark green vegetables, legumes, nuts, and many types of fruits.
Also, vitamin B12 can be obtained from low-fat and lean animal products like low-fat dairy products and fish.
Can a lack of fat cause depression?
A new meta-analysis reported in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience showed that having a low level of blood cholesterol increases a person’s risk of deeper depression and suicide. It showed that people with the lowest cholesterol level were 112% at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts.
Can a change of diets cause depression?
It depends on what you’re changing your diet too. If you’re switching from healthy eating to junk foods that do not contain enough nutrition, then you are depriving your body of the vital nourishment it needs for a healthy mood.
In this case, changing your diet in depression can worsen your symptoms because of the low level of serotonin and dopamine, the happiness hormones.
However, changing your diet from junk to healthier and more nourishing fresh foods can boost your mood and help the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Nevertheless, it is best to talk to medical personnel if you notice a mood change when swapping from a healthy diet to another healthy diet.
If you want to know the foods to take for a healthy mood and those to avoid, check the above segments.
Our bodies speak, and they tell us a lot about what we eat. Sometimes, these statements are made with worsened depression.
Also, we can take advantage of the healing powers in healthy foods to improve our moods.
I hope this article has genuinely shown you that there is indeed a role of diet in depression. Share it with friends.