Food and Depression: The Best Diet to Manage Depression

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Can you eat to beat depression? That’s a common question with a complex answer. To cut right to it, no, there’s no type of food or combination of foods that can cure depression permanently. However, there is without a doubt a significant link between diet and depression.

There’s truly not one specific best diet plan for depression that’s perfect for everyone. The best thing patients with depression can do is to follow a healthy diet that suits each individual in their own way. What is known, however, is that a diet high in processed foods and refined sugars is hard on the body and contributes to many illnesses. On the other side of things, foods high in protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates have the best nutrients for fighting depression.

It’s a fact that many people who suffer from depression feel cravings for foods high in carbohydrates. “Carb craving” is particularly intense in Season Affective Disorder, but it’s a symptom of other forms of depression as well.
However, there are foods that support the good health of the nervous system. Some of the best foods to help fight depression include:

Fish. Cold-water ocean fish like sardines, salmon, trout, mackerel and trout are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids boost brain health by strengthening the connections between brain cells. Omega-3 fats also decrease inflammation in the tiny blood vessels that supply nerve cells with vital nutrients. Ocean fish are also rich sources of vitamin B12, which is necessary for healthy nerve tissue.

Seeds. Pumpkin and squash seeds increase tryptophan, an amino acid that’s essential for the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a critical brain chemical that’s responsible for mood and the regulation of our mood. Chia seeds along with flaxseed are exceptionally good sources of omega-3 fats and are a good replacement for fish oil for those who prefer a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Whole Foods. Heavily processed foods aren’t good for mental health or health in general. They have few nutrients but are high in fat and calories. They’re loaded with simple carbohydrates, which break down into sugars that play havoc with blood sugar and insulin levels. Spikes and troughs in blood sugar contribute to high fatigue and poor mood. Whole foods are full of nutrients and digest more slowly than processed foods.

Protein and Meat. Red meat does not cure depression, but the plentiful B vitamins in lean meat are essential for the health of the nervous system. Servings of lean meat provide a rich source of B12, a vital nutrient for good brain health. Meat also provides plenty of protein. Proteins provide the body with essential amino acids that are then used by the nervous system to build neurotransmitters. Healthy levels of neurotransmitters are absolutely vital for a good mood. Proteins also balance blood sugar levels.

Vegans and vegetarians aren’t exempt from needing protein, but our next two categories have them covered.

Nuts. Walnuts support good brain health as they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts like brazil nuts, hazelnuts and cashews are also good sources of protein and omega-3 fats.

Beans. Beans are loaded with fiber and protein. They’re also full of folate, a B vitamin our bodies require to process and use vitamin B12. B12 helps the brain manufacture chemicals that regulate mood. Chickpeas are high in folate, as are pinto beans.

There are good foods for depression all around. It just takes a little research to identify the best diet for depression that works for you. A healthy diet filled with nutrient-dense foods will help you manage depression and its ugly fellow-travelers, like anxiety and mood swings.

We tend to crave foods high in starches and simple carbohydrates when we’re stressed out. Even the best of intentions can go bad when we try to eat healthily but feel worse. Consider that sometimes a crash diet robs us of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. All of the following foods worsen depression when eaten in excess.

Foods That Worsen Depression

Simple Carbohydrates and Sugar. Sugar is added to so many foods it doesn’t bear repeating. Processed and refined sugars have a serious, negative impact on mood. Sugars include things like:

  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Dextrose
  • Sucrose
  • Maltose
  • Corn syrup

Some foods have sugar in them as an essential aspect of that food. Fruits are one example. Other foods have sugar added to them. No matter its source, limit your intake of sugar to better manage your mood.

Starches and Processed Grains. Refined grains and starches don’t occur in nature. They cause wild swings in blood sugar levels which prompts a low mood, mood swings throughout the day, and fatigue.

Fried foods. Fried foods are loaded in grease and salt. They’re often breaded, which loads you up on processed grains and fat.

Alcohol. Limiting one’s intake of alcohol is always a good idea, but it’s necessary if you have problems with depression or anxiety. Alcohol acts as a depressant in the central nervous system and slows down many important brain functions, including the brain’s ability to purge toxins from its tissues. Alcohol is loaded with sugar, which as we noted above, causes excessive peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels. Large fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin are tied to a depressed, anxious mood.

Treating Depression With TMS Therapy

Although eating the right kinds of food can help fight depression, it’s still important to get treatment with a professional. If you’re seeking treatment for depression and you’re concerned about the many side effects of antidepressants, consider Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy. This is an FDA cleared non-invasive treatment for multiple mental health disorders. TMS therapy uses targeted magnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that affect mood, which helps you get back to your best life quickly and with no side effects. Among the many depression treatment options out there, TMS therapy is an excellent, pain-free solution that is covered by most major insurance companies. The best part is there are no side effects from TMS therapy, making it an excellent solution for those who fear the side effects of medications.

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.

Works Cited

Crichton-Stuart, C. (2018, August 1). 9 foods that help reduce anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322652 

Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M. D. (2018, June 1). Vitamin B-12 and depression: Are they related? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/vitamin-b12-and-depression/faq-20058077

Keeso, A. (2017, February 16). 5 Foods That Fight Symptoms Of Depression. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/abigail-keeso/5-foods-that-fight-symptoms-of-depression_b_9190300.html

L., Kate, et al. “Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 23 Mar. 2018, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00487/full.

Serefko, A., Szopa, A., Wlaź, P., Nowak, G., Radziwoń-Zaleska, M., Skalski, M., & Poleszak, E. (2013). Magnesium in depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23950577

Wani, A. L., Bhat, S. A., & Ara, A. (2015). Omega-3 fatty acids and the treatment of depression: a review of scientific evidence. Integrative medicine research, 4(3), 132–141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imr.2015.07.003

WebMD. Foods to Avoid If You Have Anxiety or Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/ss/slideshow-avoid-foods-anxiety-depression

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