Much of our emotional well-being can be tied to our experiences, both intangible and tangible. This means, that uncomfortable situations in our daily lives can affect our moods and even make us feel depressed. Sometimes, food can affect our mood and ability to maintain a healthy emotional state. However, did you know that there foods that fight depression?
We should begin by stating that severe depression cannot be overcome simply by adopting a particular diet; it needs to be treated by a mental health professional, as it is a clinical condition. Apart from exercising and practicing self-care, consuming foods that boost positivity is a helpful addition to therapy.
Depending on how your body reacts to specific components found in certain foods, you can find yourself feeling down or full of energy after consuming a particular meal. This is due to the hormones that act as neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, that are tied to certain behaviors.
What foods are linked to depression?
Aside from any intolerance or adverse chemical reaction your body experiences with a given ingredient, no foods are known to bring you down. Full-blown depression is a mood disorder, not a food-induced state of being. However, if you are struggling with depression, there are some things you should avoid eating and/or drinking.
- Fruit juice is delicious and refreshing; however, the juicing process often leaves out the abundance of nutritious fiber that many fruits contain in their natural state. The result is a concoction that raises your blood sugar levels before sending you into a spiral, making you susceptible to anxiety and depression.
- Carbonated beverages also spike your blood sugar levels, but in contrast to fruit juice, these have none of the nutritional benefits. Many carbonated drinks also contain caffeine—a mood crasher in a glass.
- Artificial sweeteners are typically consumed as part of “diet” beverages. Regular consumption of these can actually lead to weight gain. Also, artificial sweeteners have been shown to be a cause of depression in older adults.
- Ultra-processed foods are the subject of many scientific studies. There appears to be a link between UPFs and cardiometabolic disease, which can circularly lead to depression.
- Refined sugars have been studied as a statistically reliable cause of depression when consumed (as beverages and food) in significant quantities over time. If you’re interested in reading about one such study, you can check it out here.
- Alcohol affects a person’s mental state and physical health to various degrees depending on how much, how often, and for how long it is consumed. Many people use alcohol to enhance their mood, but it is most provenly a depressant very much worth avoiding.
- Trans fats, like those found in baked goods and fried foods, can reduce the brain’s serotonin production, which adversely affects memory and mood.
- Gluten (if you’re sensitive to it)
- Refined Starches (white-flour pasta and bread, white rice, and chips)
Foods That Fight Depression: What food is a natural antidepressant?
If you’re a beauty or health enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of free radicals—unstable atoms responsible for damaging essential molecules in the body, which can lead to aging and illness. The damage can even extend to your brain. The way to fight them is by consuming antioxidants (like beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E) found in fruits and vegetables of bright yellow, orange, and green colors.
Low serotonin activity, which can cause sleep issues, anxiety, and depression, will often manifest as a craving for carbs. Skip simple carbs (sugary foods like cake and cookies) and consume complex carbs (whole grains), which have a calming effect. Consuming foods like legumes, poultry (especially turkey), fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy—rich in the amino acid tryptophan—will increase serotonin production.
Also essential to battle depression are all B vitamins, vitamin D, selenium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. These can be found in the following foods:
- Lean Beef
- Low-fat Milk
- Leafy Greens
- Enriched Cereals
- Brown Rice
- Brazil Nuts
- Sunflower Seeds
- Lima Beans
The Best Diet to Manage Depression
A Mediterranean diet, loaded with star components vitamin B12 and folate, can lift your mood. A combination of fresh seasonal foods, comprised of healthy fats that digest slowly, helps you stay full longer. Classic ingredients and dishes include:
- Whole-grain Bread (in moderation)
- Wine (preferably red, in moderation)
- Black Olives
- Olive Oil
- Nuts (in moderation)
- Feta Cheese
- Basil Pesto
- Greek Salad
- Gazpacho Soup
- Strong Spices
- Whole Fruits
- Flavorful Dark Veggies
- Low-fat Meats
- Low-fat Dairy Products
- Fatty Fish (like trout)
How to Fight Depression with Food
In essence, the way your diet can help you fight depression is by limiting the consumption of foods that slow down brain activity. Fried, ultra-processed, sugary, or stimulant foods tend to damage your mood. Anything that causes a quick high may also cause a crash that is just as fast and intense and will likely affect your mood.
Opt for foods that are good for your heart and your brain; they will assist your blood and neurotransmitters in synthesizing everything that boosts your mood. It is not for naught that the stomach is called the second brain—good gut health equals good mental health!
Speaking of good gut health, in addition to including fresh whole foods in your diet, there are some great tools such as probiotics and prebiotics. These can help regulate mood, reduce inflammation, and respond effectively to gastrointestinal stress. Probiotics can help treat and prevent things like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—a disorder that triggers symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients.
Please keep in mind that mood-boosting foods are not a cure for acute depression. If you perceive intense symptoms that are not going away, reach out to a professional. There is no shame in asking for help, and it will make all the difference in your overall health.
If you are already managing a mood disorder with a professional, these recommendations will improve the chemical reactions in your digestive system, heart, and brain. This, in turn, will assist your recovery process by keeping your body healthy and high performing. Remember: you are never alone.