By: Elna Botes van Schalkwyk
Trying to find a diet to ease depression?
Unfortunately, there's no specific diet that works for depression. No studies have been done that indicate a particular eating plan can ease symptoms of clinical depression. Still, while certain diets or foods may not ease depression (or put you instantly in a better mood), a healthy diet may help as part of an overall treatment for depression.
Although all of us experience periods of intense sadness, true depression can range from mourning to chronic and complete disability, characterized by overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. People who are depressed also find it difficult to function; they may have disturbed eating and sleeping and bowel habits, they can't concentrate, they can't enjoy anything in life and they frequently suffer low self-esteem. Brains need the right dietary mix to be healthy. Too much or too little of a good thing can lead to an unhealthy brain and you could well end up depressed.
Foods for beating depression:
- Fish oils: Contain omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that depressed people often lack a fatty acid known as EPA. Participants in a 2002 study featured in the Archives of General Psychiatry took just a gram of fish oil each day and noticed a 50-percent decrease in symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disorders, unexplained feelings of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and decreased sex drive. Omega-3 fatty acids can also lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. Get omega-3s through walnuts, flaxseed and oily fish like salmon or tuna. Another top food for delivering omega-3 fatty acids is chia seeds.
- Brown Rice: Contains vitamins B1 and B3, and folic acid. Brown rice is also a low-glycemic food, which means it releases glucose into the bloodstream gradually, preventing sugar lows and mood swings. Brown rice also provides many of the trace minerals we need to function properly, as well as being a high-fiber food that can keep the digestive system healthy and lower cholesterol. Instant varieties of rice do not offer these benefits. Any time you see "instant" on a food label, avoid it.
- Brewer's Yeast: Contains vitamins B1, B2 and B3. Brewer's yeast should be avoided if you do not tolerate yeast well, but if you do, mix a thimbleful into any smoothie for your daily dose. This superfood packs a wide assortment of vitamins and minerals in a small package, including 16 amino acids and 14 minerals. Amino acids are vital for the nervous system, which makes brewer's yeast a no-brainer for treating depression.
- Whole-grain oats: Contain folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamins B6 and B1. Oats help lower cholesterol, are soothing to the digestive tract and help avoid the blood sugar crash-and-burn that can lead to crabbiness and mood swings. Other whole grains such as kamut, spelt and quinoa are also excellent choices for delivering brain-boosting nutrients and avoiding the pitfalls of refined grains such as white flour.
- Cabbage: Contains vitamin C and folic acid. Cabbage protects against stress, infection and heart disease, as well as many types of cancers, according to the American Association for Cancer Research. There are numerous ways to get cabbage into your diet; toss it in a salad instead of lettuce, use cabbage in place of lettuce wraps, stir fry it in your favorite Asian dish, make some classic cabbage soup or juice it. To avoid gas after eating cabbage, add a few fennel, caraway or cumin seeds before cooking. Cabbage is also a good source of blood-sugar-stabilizing fiber, and the raw juice of cabbage is a known cure for stomach ulcers.
- B vitamins: Studies suggest that if you have low levels of the B vitamin folic acid and high levels of a protein called homocysteine, you are more likely to be depressed. Folic acid, vitamin B2, B6, and B12 have all been shown to decrease levels of homocysteine. You can get B vitamins by eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes.
- Amino acids: Tryptophan is an important amino acid that you need to make the brain chemical serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are believed to be a cause of depression. Several studies have shown that a diet high in tryptophan can improve depression. You can get tryptophan in your diet from foods high in protein like meat, fish, beans, and eggs.
- Carbohydrates: All the carbohydrates you eat are broken down into sugar that your brain needs to function properly. However, eating too much sugar can cause peaks and valleys in your blood glucose levels that can cause or aggravate symptoms of depression. The best way to avoid these symptoms is to eat a diet low in refined carbohydrates and sugar and high in fruits and vegetables. So don't shun carbs -- just make smart choices. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which all contribute healthy carbs as well as fiber.
- St. John's wort: This plant has been used as a dietary supplement to treat a mild depression.
- Also worth mentioning: Foods like raw cacao, dark molasses and brazil nuts (high in selenium) are also excellent for boosting brain function and eliminating depression. Get raw cacao and brazil nuts at Nature's First Law.
Things to avoid:
- If you feel you are depressed or at risk for depression, you also need to avoid certain foods and substances. Some commonly prescribed drugs -- such as antibiotics, barbiturates, amphetamines, pain killers, ulcer drugs, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, anti-Parkinson's drugs, birth control pills, high blood pressure drugs, heart medications and psychotropic drugs -- contribute to depression. If you are taking any of these, don't quit them without talking to your doctor; but be aware that they may be contributing to your condition by depleting your body of depression-fighting vitamins and minerals.
- You should also avoid caffeine, smoking and foods high in fat and sugar. Keeping your blood sugar stable and getting B vitamins is important for stabilizing your mood. Cacao can be good for mood because it releases endorphins in the brain, but watch out for milk chocolate and candy varieties high in sugar.
Other non-food things to do:
Get plenty of sunshine. Natural sunlight is a proven cure for depression.
Engage in regular exercise at least three times per week. Exercise lifts and mood and alters brain chemistry in a positive way.
Experience laughter. It's good medicine. Take a quality superfood supplement to get even more natural medicine from the world of plants.