Fighting Off Depression with Food

Can it be better than taking antidepressants?

Hello everybody! I hope wherever you are you’re making it through the winter blues. For those of us in the Northeast U.S. this winter has been brutal and I’m sure I’m not the only one loving the taste of spring we’ve had. Hopefully it sticks around for the long haul!

Speaking of winter blues, let’s talk about nutrition and depression.


Today’s post is something that was inspired by a wellness magazine I picked up containing an article titled “Happy Meals: Eating Healthy Foods Fights Off Depression”, which I thought was incredibly interesting. This is the perfect time for talking about different foods that have the potential to fight off those down-trodden feelings. I don’t know about you, but in the northeast March tends to drag on and I usually get beaten down by the weather. Not to mention it’s the month of midterms (but I’ve made it through the other side!).

Depression can be severe, I cannot attest to its severity personally, but having been a psychology minor before I have some experience with the topic. The paralytic feeling of hopelessness is pervasive, drowning out any sort of good thought or positive thing, is scary. Many treatments involve a combination of therapy and medication, specifically antidepressants. I’m sure we’ve all seen TV commercials for Zoloft or Paxil. I won’t get into any mechanisms here, but this article argues that prevention and recovery of depression can come from changing the diet.

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We all know our diets impact our bodies in a multitude of ways, from gut health to immunity, but what I found interesting is the effects it can have on our mental health. As in most scenarios, the article claims that eating wholesome food that is simple and recognizable should be the cornerstone of one’s diet. Sounds pretty familiar, right? In addition, it mentions that the diet should be “flexitarian” – which I always thought of as a tricky word. To most, it seems to mean eating a diet focused mostly on plants with the inclusion of high-quality animal foods. In essence: altering the “processed-foods to whole-foods ratio yields an improved mood”, they claim. Which I expect; regardless of what you’re trying to “treat”, shifting away from processed food always leads to a better lifestyle.

Main-Image-600x400Most intriguing was the section on probiotic potential. Gut health is a hot topic in research right now (which if you read my previous post you’ll have learned a bit about that!), but what’s important is that gut bacteria and neurochemicals in the brain communicate. They do so intimately, and it’s a two way street. Changing your gut population can most definitely impact your mental health, and by nourishing your gut bacteria with fiber and fermented foods is a good way to ensure good mental health. So reach for vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and especially legumes for your prebiotics. And, grab yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables for your probiotics.

Your B vitamins are also super important for your brain in addition to the wide array of metabolic functions they perform. According to this article, folate (B9) has been examined for its correlation with depression, and in a recent meta-analysis a lower intake of folate was related to a higher risk of depression. The mechanism of this process comes from the B vitamins’ ability to manufacture “feel-good” neurotransmitters (ie: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine) during what’s know as a methylation cycle – working very similarly to antidepressants and other medications. So, grab some dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, Swiss chard) for your folate, but many other fruits and vegetables contain a multitude of B vitamins as well!

Omega-3s. It’s been a trending word all across the nutritional world for awhile now, and that’s with good reason. These are healthy fats, long-chain unsaturated fats known as DHA and EPA, help protect the neurons of the brain. By protecting the neurons they allow the brain to communicate effectively, boost your mental health and prevent cognitive decline as we age. In the article another study was referenced stating that using the omega-3 EPA to treat depressed patients worked just as well as using an antidepressant. How cool is that? So go get your omega-3s in fatty seafood like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed! Don’t skimp out on this one because it’s incredibly important for brain health.

In the end, altering your diet to something that is wholesome and simple can truly nourish your brain and your entire body. What you put into your body can affect you in so many ways, including your mental health. So don’t forget to get your probiotics and prebiotics, B vitamins, and omega-3s to stave off depression and maintain good mental health!

depression_foodsQuestion of the week: what foods can you add to your week that will help combat depression and promote good mental health?

Image Credit: Photo 1 (www.theangrytherapist.com); Photo 2 (everythinggl.com); Photo 3 (www.healthbyharvey.com)

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