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Healthy Diets for People With Depression

Healthy Diet for Depression

Healthy eating can ease the symptoms of depression in many ways. How a person eats can affect his or her mood, and new research is showing that a low-quality diet increases the incidence of depression.  A large study in Britain showed people who consumed processed food, including fried foods, processed meats, high-fat dairy, sweet desserts, chips, crackers, cookies, and refined cereals were more likely to be depressed. Being deficient in certain nutrients can also cause symptoms of depression.

If you have a diagnosis of clinical depression from your doctor or are just feeling low, the first thing to do is eliminate the above processed and refined foods from your diet. A balanced diet, defined as a diet high in fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, seeds, low-fat or non-fat dairy, and seafood is key in ensuring macro- and micronutrient needs are being met. For further symptom relief, emphasizing certain nutrients and foods may provide even more benefit. 

Micronutrient Deficiencies

Antioxidants clear free radicals from the body. An antioxidant deficiency allows free radicals to attack tissues, and the brain may be particularly susceptible to this assault. Beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E are all antioxidants that can be easily increased through diet.

Consume apricots, cantaloupe, peaches, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, broccoli, and collard greens for beta-carotene sources.

Vitamin C is found in oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, sweet peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries, kiwi, and broccoli.

Nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and wheat germ are the best food sources of Vitamin E.

Folate deficiency is linked to increased rates of depression, especially among smokers. Folate sources include legumes, nuts, and dark green vegetables. The same link has been found with a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 food sources are low-fat and lean animal products, like fish and non-fat yogurt.

Vitamin D intake can improve symptoms of depression, especially those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.  Foods rich in vitamin D include cow’s milk, salmon, shiitake mushrooms, eggs, sardines, shrimp, and cod.

Low selenium intake has been linked to poor mood. The best food source of selenium is Brazil nuts, and achieving the correct amount of selenium needed each day can be achieved with only one Brazil nut each day.  Other foods that are good sources of selenium include liver, salmon, mushrooms, eggs, halibut, tuna, cod, and turkey. It is possible to overdose on selenium, so selenium supplementation is not recommended. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied for their effect on alleviating symptoms of depression with good results, as studies indicate that a deficit of omega-3 in the diet is associated with depression. Many people are deficient in omega-3s and can replete their stores by consuming seafood such as salmon, tuna, herring, shrimp, scallops, and sardines.  Vegetarian sources of omega-3s are walnuts and ground flax seed, both of which can be added to oatmeal or yogurt for a daily source.

Macronutrient Tips

Consuming the right carbohydrates, such as whole grains, oatmeal, dried beans and peas, and fruits and vegetables, may increase levels of serotonin, a mood-boosting and calming brain chemical.

Lean protein sources like skinless chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, soy products, yogurt, and fish are rich in amino acids. Amino acids are the precursors to neurotransmitters in the brain. Many people who suffer from depression have inadequate levels of certain neurotransmitters. Tyrosine, one of the amino acids, boosts dopamine and norepinephrine, two brain chemicals that contribute to alertness and help with concentration.

Beverage choices may also be involved with mood. Adequate sleep is an important factor in overall happiness, and both alcohol and caffeine can affect sleep patterns. Caffeine, if consumed, should only be done so in moderate amounts (2 cups of coffee a day or up to four cups of tea) and before noon to be fully cleared from the system before bedtime. Alcohol should be consumed only in moderation, one serving per day for women and one to two servings per day for men, as it is shown in research to decrease the amount of REM sleep, the deepest and most restful sleep period. Soda and sugary fruit juices are considered processed foods and should be avoided.

The Mediterranean Diet

The best diet model to achieve the above micro- and macronutrient recommendations appears to be the Mediterranean Diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, fish, legumes, yogurt, and alcohol in moderation. The Mediterranean Diet has been extensively studied due to the overall health and well-being of the Mediterranean people. The combination of adequate omega-3 fatty acid sources, high antioxidant levels in the fruits, vegetables, and olive oil, and proper carbohydrate and protein sources is both healing and protective of proper mental health.