The best foods for depression?
After all, they say you are what you eat, it’s no surprise for most people, food is closely tied to mood.
Good food = happy mood.
If you’re feeling down, you probably instinctively reach for ‘comfort food,’ which usually means processed goodies like refined carbs and sugars.
You think that kind of food will boost your mood, and it can work in the short-term.
What follows is the dreaded sugar crash and sometimes feelings of guilt. It probably seems like you’re right back where you started.
But the impact of food on your mood goes even deeper than this.
It could be critical to protecting your mental health. If you suffer from a mental health issue, it’s possible that your diet has either contributed to the problem or has been making it worse.
Foods for Depression
There is now a large body of research that highlights a strong link between diet and depression.
The evidence is so strong that it led to the birth of a whole new field of medicine: nutritional psychiatry.
Stephen Ilardi, a clinical psychologist, promotes a lifestyle-based treatment for depression. He says helping his patients change things like their diet quality drastically improves their symptoms.
It’s not complicated to understand the link between diet and depression.
Read on to find out more about how maintaining healthy eating habits could help ease your depression symptoms.
What Foods You Should Avoid (and Why)
Studies have shown which foods can contribute to depression:
- Sweetened desserts
- Fried foods
- Processed meats
- Processed grains
- Low fat intake – People with low fat intake have a 25% higher risk of becoming depressed than those who eat healthy fats
- A lot of salt – This you can lead to dehydration, which can make it hard to concentrate. Poor concentration is a depressive symptom. Add other elements of a poor diet into the mix, and it can be very difficult to focus on the things that need your attention.
- Soda and/or juice instead of water – Can also lead to dehydration
- Alcohol – It’s a central nervous system depressant. If you suffer from depression, drinking can worsen your low mood. Many people who have self-harmed or attempted suicide also report drinking at the time.
- Coffee – Caffeine disrupts sleep, which can make you irritable and make concentrating difficult.
Scientists have also found that people who are overweight are at a greater risk of depression.
Why Do These Foods Make Depression Worse?
Low Blood Sugar or Lack of Protein
This can make you tired, anxious, and irritable. Besides making it difficult to view your situation clearly, these symptoms can affect those you care about most and put a strain on your relationships.
Too Few Nutrients
If your diet isn’t varied or rich in nutrients (Fast food is a good example of this.), then your body won’t get the vitamins and minerals it needs. This again can leave you feeling tired all the time. It also weakens your immune system, putting you at a higher risk of becoming ill, which can worsen your mental health.
Besides the reasons mentioned above, these problem foods can have a negative effect on your mood by making you feel physically uncomfortable and exhausted. Being consistently tired is a symptom associated with depression. You can fight it by eating foods that increase your energy levels.
Did you know that 95% of serotonin chemicals that your body makes AKA the happy chemical comes from your gut?
How You Interact with Food Matters
If you don’t have the energy or motivation to eat, you may be dealing with depression. One red flag is sleeping through meals.
Not only can overeating be a sign of depression, but it’s also a behavior that makes depressive symptoms worse. This is because it leads to high blood sugar levels, which means you crash and feel fatigued.
Depression already leaves you with very little energy. Making this symptom worse will make it a lot harder for you to function and get things done.
Tips for Healthy Eating
There are a few foods that can do great things for your mood!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These can be found in:
- Fish (like mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, and sardines)
- Chia seeds
Because they are essential for brain health, there is good evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can improve the symptoms of depression.
Studies on the link between diet and depression tend to find that a whole foods diet leads to a lower risk of depression. Whole foods include:
- Whole grains
- Fish (which have omega-3 fatty acids!)
The Mediterranean Diet
In terms of specific diets and depression, medical research shows that the Mediterranean diet can act as an antidepressant.
On the Mediterranean diet, you’ll eat:
- Low-fat or unsweetened dairy
- Raw nuts (unsalted)
- Lean red meat
- Legumes (like beans, peas, and alfalfa)
- Olive oil
You won’t eat:
- Processed meat
- Refined cereals
- Fried food
- Fast food
Research is still being done on why the Mediterranean diet is linked to good mental health. One expert suggests it has to do with how it protects brain health because it’s:
- Low in refined carbohydrates, which “put your blood sugar, insulin, hormones, and neurotransmitters on a dangerous invisible roller coaster”
- High in natural fat and cholesterol, which the brain requires for proper functioning
- Made up mostly of whole foods, which the human body is well adapted to
Follow Your Gut!
In trying to understand the link between diet and depression, look to your gut bacteria.
Exciting research underscores that its health is linked to your mood. This means you may be able to alleviate symptoms of depression by including gut-friendly foods in your eating plan. This includes probiotics (foods with healthy bacteria):
- Miso paste
- Kombucha tea
- Sourdough bread
- Cultured soymilk
Consistently eating healthy and avoiding the problem foods listed here can do great things for your mood and improve the symptoms associated with depression.
But sometimes healthy eating isn’t enough. If it doesn’t work for you or doesn’t resolve your depression symptoms entirely, try something else!
Fighting depression often calls for being open to different depression treatment options. A healthy diet paired with TMS therapy has immense potential for relieving your depression symptoms.