4 Changes You Can Make in Your Diet to Reduce Depression
Our brain is a physical organ, and organs need nutrition to survive. So why don’t we think to treat our psychological ailments the same way we do our physical?
While we might be used to thinking of depression as a mental illness which strictly manifests in the mind, it is becoming clearer to both nutrition and psychology experts that there is an undeniable connection between mental health and diet. Whatever we choose to fuel ourselves with affects the production of all chemicals in the body.
In basic physiological terms, depression has been linked to low levels of the “feel-good” chemical, serotonin. Most prescribed depression medications act on our serotonin activity. While a diet change is no substitute for medication or therapy, these are a few foods to try incorporating into your healthy lifestyle to boost your body’s ability to support your mental recovery.
1. Fermented Foods
While serotonin lives in the brain, it is believed that our bodies create the majority of our serotonin in the gut with the help of all those good bacteria. When the levels of serotonin get low—through poor diet, stress, stimulant use or chronic antibiotic use—the levels of friendly bacteria can get outnumbered by the toxic ones. This means not as much serotonin is being generated and our mood is consequently impacted. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and will help recolonize the friendly bacteria in your gut. Try integrating fermented options such as Kimchi, sauerkraut, live-culture yogurt and coconut Kefir a few times a week.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Adding Omega-3 rich foods into our diet can restore the healthy fats in our body and alleviate symptoms of depression through their anti-inflammatory properties. Although there are a lot of different types of omega-3’s, the two types specifically beneficial in treating depression are DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). The best direct sources of these are cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, mackerel and tuna. If you can’t stomach fish, but would like to deliver a high boost of EPA or DHA—a flavourless fish oil supplement such as Orange Naturals Omega-3 Fish Oils can work wonders. In terms of seeds, nuts and oils: chia, flax, hemp, walnut and pumpkin are the highest in Omega-3. While these are nutritional powerhouses, be aware that only a small percentage of that Omega-3 gets converted into those important DHAs and EPAs.
3. Antioxidant Foods
What are antioxidants anyway? Our bodies naturally create molecules known as “free radicals”. They can be damaging to other cellular structures in the body, in particular our brain cells. Antioxidants can lessen this effect by fighting those free radicals. You can find them in a lot of richly coloured plant foods such as raspberries, goji berries, cherries, papaya and pumpkin. Dark leafy greens are also a great choice as they are dense in a crucial B-vitamin known as folate. It has been shown that those suffering from anxiety and depression are also deficient in folate. Fill your diet with spinach, kale, swiss chard or mustard greens. Better yet, throw them in a blender with your favourite berries and enjoy a tasty antioxidant smoothie.
4. Tryptophan-Rich Foods
You may have experienced how turkey can make you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. That’s not just a myth because turkey contains an essential amino acid known as Tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin, the chemical our brains naturally release at night to make us sleep. How does this relate to depression? Tryptophan is also the precursor to serotonin, and if the body is deficient in tryptophan, it could also be struggling to produce adequate serotonin. And it’s not only present in turkey—tryptophan is also high in lean chicken, tuna, eggs, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. For an even bigger boost of tryptophan, you can try supplementing before bed with something like CanPrev’s 5-HTP Supplement. You’ll get the added benefit of boosting your melatonin production—a good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold when we’re feeling blue.
Always check with a naturopath or medical professional before supplementing serotonin-affecting supplements as they can react with SSRI’s or other prescribed medication.
There are many more nutrients and superfoods that can help heal your mind, body and soul but for today, these are some easy options to consider. Take it one day at a time and never be ashamed to ask for help!
Written by Niki Zarikos, CNP
Niki is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner from Toronto, Ontario. Currently working as a Clinical Research Nutrition Associate at dicentra, Niki is motivated by her interests in the nutrition of mental health, body image, addictions and holistic healing.
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