Depression can make it hard to think about eating, or it can make it impossible to stop eating. But food can be incredibly supportive in relieving symptoms of depression if you know what to eat. Here are a few tips to make therapeutic food choices easy for you.
The building blocks of protein are amino acids – which are also the building blocks of your neurotransmitters. Without those building blocks, you can’t make enough of your mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Getting a good mix of amino acids is particularly important for vegans. Many plant foods contain some amino acids but lack sufficient levels of others. By eating a mix of legumes, vegetables, and pesudo-grains such as quinoa and buckwheat, you can achieve healthy levels.
An easy way to ensure you get sufficient protein is to ensure each meal and snack has a source of protein.
For example, an omnivore could have:
- Eggs for breakfast
- Hummus as a snack
- Chicken with lunch
- Yoghurt as a second snack
- Salmon with dinner
A vegan could have:
- Buckwheat with breakfast
- Hummus as a snack
- Quinoa with lunch
- Nuts as a second snack
- Bean salad with dinner.
High protein sources are often good sources of other nutrients such as fatty acids, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. All of these can also support your mental wellbeing.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3s are a foundation of mental wellbeing, because of the huge role they play in reducing inflammation and nerve function. Recent research has begun to uncover the role that inflammation plays in depression.So any nutrient that can reduce inflammation and support nerves is a must-have in supporting depression.
Despite this, many of us are deficient in omega 3s. This is particularly true with our habit of cooking foods in vegetable oils high in omega 6 fatty acids.
To optimize your omega 3s, you need a twofold approach. Introducing omega 3 rich foods such as fatty fish, other seafood, walnuts, chia, and flaxseed will lower your overall inflammation levels.
However, for the greatest effect, you will also need to reduce your omega 6 intake as well. Replace vegetable oils with more stable fats such as avocado, olive oil or coconut oil, and stick to minimally processed foods.
Know Your Intolerances
This is where the link between your digestion and your nervous system, or the gut-brain connection, come into play. The majority of serotonin in our bodies is actually produced in the gut, not in the brain. Therefore, if there is inflammation in your gut because you consume foods you are intolerant to, your body is no longer able balance your serotonin properly. You may not absorb the right amount into your system, or you may have too much.
Your nervous system is thrown into disarray. The end result is changes in mental health, including depression. In fact, many people with food intolerances experience some kind of mood change as part of their reaction.
So how do you know if you’re intolerant to a food? Food diaries are a helpful tool here. Notw down if you have symptoms such as bloating, gas, or mood changes after each meal. If you’re not sure if there are any patterns, take it to your nutritionist for them to analyse.
Boost The Depression-Fighting Minerals
Research links nutrients such as magnesium and selenium to a reduction in depressive symptoms. There are many potential reasons behind this. Selenium is a potent antioxidant and is needed for proper thyroid function. On the other hand, magnesium is involved in the body’s main energy cycle and is a cofactor for neurotransmitters.
The best way to boost these minerals is to hit the green leafy vegetables and nuts. Brazil nuts can more than cover your selenium needs with just a couple of nuts a few times a week. Green leafy vegetables are magnesium-packed. Try to include vegetables like spinach, kale, cabbage, endive, fresh parsley and dark coloured lettuces daily to increase your magnesium levels.
Bump up your Bs
B vitamins are really the superstars of your vitamins. They are involved in countless reactions and act as cofactors for various different hormones and neurotransmitters. So needless to say, if you’re not getting enough of them – you’re gonna feel like poop.
Many types of anti-depressants can deplete your B group vitamins, so getting enough in your diet is essential if you want to have energy and feel good.
Different B vitamins are found in different foods. Most are readily available in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. However, vitamin B12 is generally only found in animal products and supplements.
Some superfoods such as spirulina claim to have high levels of B12, but the form is inactive and is not a viable source. So if you’re following a vegan or strict vegetarian diet, you may want to get your levels checked. If you’re not sure, consult a nutritionist about appropriate supplementation.
Supplements can also be supportive in depression. However, due to the number of interactions between anti-depressants and supplements, it is incredibly important to only use supplements recommended by a qualified health practitioner. If you’re not sure, consult a qualified nutritionist to see what supplements are right for your health and safe with your medications.