Can the Right Food Protect You from Depressed Moods?
Why don’t all those comfort foods make you feel any better?
Does it seem that sugary sodas never provide the pick-me-up you want?
How is it that all of those happy meals leave you feeling sadder rather than happier?
Diet matters if you’re prone to depression. And food choices like those won’t put you in a position to protect your mind from dark moods. They may actually make emotional pain seem more intense and the need for depression counseling more necessary.
Food is powerful. Used incorrectly, your mind and mood can suffer. Used correctly, food is healing medicine and a major factor in mood regulation.
There is hope, depression relief is possible one plate at a time.
What Does the Science Say?
In recent years therapy for depression has expanded significantly.
Physicians, psychologists and other professionals now treat patients with the long-term implications and consequences of nutrition in mind. Recommendations for self-care not only include exercise and quality sleep but often suggest food journaling and mindful attention to the way certain foods trigger depressive episodes.
Why? Because the more food and depression are studied the more research clearly indicates that certain foods impact the way your brain operates, your emotions get impacted and your thoughts develop.
In fact, the influences of certain foods are so drastic that certain types of foods should be dismissed entirely, while others you should never really do without.
Fast Food is Not Brain Food
Quite a few scientific studies throughout the last few decades have highlighted the connection between diets heavy on refined sugars or processed ingredients and impaired or altered brain function.
Fast foods at restaurants and fast food, or processed convenience foods, at home are often poor substitutes for brain nourishing foods.
According to experts in the growing field of nutritional psychiatry, nutritionally starved brains suffer the continual damaging effects of free radicals and inflammation. Researchers note that the existence of such damage also tends to show up repeatedly in people with mood disorders like depression.
So much attention has been paid to the correlation between depressed moods and unhealthy food that there’s little doubt that depression increases or worsens in people whose eating habits include large amounts of fast food, sugary drinks and boxed foods or preservatives.
In addition, that type of poor diet fuels all the common physical health problems that contribute to low self-esteem: reduced movement, obesity, and social isolation that can further drive depression.
A Gut Check is a Must
To further drive home the need for a mood protective diet, scientists also implore therapists and depression sufferers not to forget the key role of the gut, also known as “the second brain,” when considering food’s impact on mood.
Historically, the gut-mind connection wasn’t a major part of depression counseling. Thus, relatively simple dietary adjustments capable of bringing relief were not recommended.
Now, fortunately, collaborations between psychologists and nutritionists are a valuable approach to treatment. A clearer understanding of the gut as a mood regulator is making discussion of healthy intestinal bacteria and reduced inflammation in the belly commonplace.
They are becoming routine places to look for answers regarding upset and mood disorders.
What are the right foods?
As you might have guessed, dietary depression fighters are primarily fresh, whole foods. Depression is tied to inflammation. To reduce inflammation nutrient-dense, natural options must be the rule rather than the exception.
The Mediterranean Diet
This diet seems to address the needs of an inflamed, depressed mind on a variety of fronts. It is a traditional diet relying on the routine intake of natural elements such as plant-based items (fruits and vegetables), whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes, and a healthy fat like olive oil. Only low-fat dairy items and a limited use of red meat are recommended.
This diet is touted as the best and healthiest overall.
The DASH Diet
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been promoted as another strong dietary regimen for alleviating depression.
It includes low fat and low cholesterol foods, high amounts of produce, and whole grains. Low-fat dairy products, nuts, fish, and poultry are the main sources of protein. Red meat and sugar are restricted.
The high fiber and anti-inflammatory qualities of the DASH diet have been shown to improve mood for people of all ages.
All carbohydrates are not the enemy.
To enhance your mood, healthy amounts of the brains feel-good chemical serotonin are necessary. Serotonin is a soothing mood elevator provided by carbohydrates. Low-carb diets can exacerbate depression and increase fatigue and irritability.
Load up on high fiber complex carbs such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, and black beans. They are shown to effectively improve mood and brain function.
Don’t overlook Omega-3s for mood-boosting power. They are a key component in mood and memory support. A daily diet that includes fortified eggs, fish, flaxseed, and walnuts supply healthy amounts of the nutrient. Sufficient amounts of Omega-3 have been shown to help reverse the negativity and impulsivity that contribute to depressed moods.
Key vitamins and minerals
Your mood can be significantly impacted by unaddressed nutrient deficiencies. It is well worth the blood work to determine whether the following issues might be contributing to your low mood:
• insufficient iron can contribute to attention deficits and fatigue. Mental health and accuracy are best supported by small amounts of lean red meat and regular inclusion of beans, liver, and egg yolks in your diet.
• deficient thiamine is thought to affect sociability. Low quantities of this nutrient can foster feelings of low energy and a desire to withdraw from other people. To improve levels, consider whole grains, pork, and eggs.
• inadequate B12 and folic acid make existing depression worse. Combined, the two nutrients are excellent mood boosters on their own. They also do a good job of supporting the efficiency of pharmaceutical antidepressants. To get more of both in your diet, eat more green vegetables, oranges, and nuts.
Do you believe your diet might be having a detrimental impact on your moods? Don’t wait to feel better. Your mood can be lifted from the inside out.
About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with people struggling with powerful issues such as depression, addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, and work life balance.