While most people are aware of the critical role nutrition plays in the connection between what you eat and how you look, a large percentage of those people have little to no idea the effect nutrition plays on your mental health.
Depression or chronic stress is generally thought of as being based on our emotional essence; however, nutrition plays an essential part in bringing on depression and contributes to the severity and duration (1). The majority of foods that have been identified to bring on stress or depression are also the same foods eaten during depression.
Patterns also follow a similar path; some of the patterns identified are low appetite, missing meals, and a craving for sweet foods and drinks.
In recent years the field of “nutritional neuroscience,” although still in its infancy, has started to shed light on the significant role it plays in determining not only how we look but how we feel.
Further investigation into the diets of those who suffer from depression makes it easy to see their nutrition is far from adequate. Unfortunately, the food choices they make may well be contributing to their depression; it’s a vicious cycle.
For example, recent evidence and research are suggesting a link between suicide and low levels of serotonin.
The implications are that the lower levels can lead to risky behavior and aggressive actions that may ultimately lead to thoughts of suicide.
Symptoms such as loss of appetite, sadness, mood swings, and loss of enjoyment are all associated with depression. If not dealt with rapidly, the consequences, as we’ve seen, can be dire.
Another factor is the role that anti-depressants plays in people suffering from depression; these drugs can lead to suicidal tendencies.
Living in this fast-paced technological age is incredibly stressful, so it would also be logical to conclude that it contributes to increased stress and depression. This also means that the importance of nutritional choices comes to the fore when discussing depression and anxiety.
Below are some common imbalances connected with depression and nutrition:
- The ongoing imbalances of blood sugar levels which are usually associated with excessive sugar intake
- Deficient levels of amino acids, particularly tryptophan and tyrosine
- Inadequate levels of B Vitamins including B6, folate, and B-12
- Low levels of essential fats, specifically omega-3
Sugar plays a significant role in the onset of depression and the inadequate control of your blood sugar levels. There are several symptoms that I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve seen and dealt with, including chronic fatigue, forgetfulness, heavy sweating, dizziness, upset stomach, and insomnia.
It has been shown that almost all of these symptoms present before the onset of lowered blood sugar levels and decreased sensitivity concerning insulin resistance. The brain requires a consistent level of glucose, and sugar itself has been shown to bring on anxiety, eating disorders, aggressive behavior, attention deficit, and hyperactivity, especially amongst children.
With every spoon of sugar, essential B vitamins are catabolized, which in turn increases demand. B vitamins are absolutely necessary for maintaining mental health (2). Almost 98% of chromium, which is present in sugar cane, is lost while turning it into table sugar. Chromium is critical in helping to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
Depression often has two- sides to it, which are feelings of sadness and feeling lazy and unmotivated.
Eating meals regularly throughout the day is a component in helping your cognitive brain function. The brain is different when compared to other organs, and it needs a consistent supply of glucose to use as its main fuel source.
This fuel source should come from starchy carbohydrates, which help to keep blood sugar levels steady. Eating small amounts throughout the day keeps you fresh and alert.
Did you know your brain is made up of almost 50% fat? This is why fats play such a crucial role in cognitive brain health and function. An adequate and regular supply of good fats is essential. Keeping a healthy balance of your fats make sure your brain is well nourished.
When cooking, utilize oils such as olive oil, grape seed oil, sesame oil, and rapeseed oil. Take full advantage of nuts and seeds which contain high levels of unsaturated fats and make great additions to any salad or simply eaten as a small snack.
At the same time, you increase your unsaturated fat intake; you need to be actively lowering your saturated fat levels. These fats are detrimental to heart health and cognitive function.
Trans fats are found in foods such as processed meats, packaged foods, ready-made meals, and baked goods. Where you can, try to use alternatives to these foods by going natural as much as possible. One key bit of advice is to choose whole grains, fruits, and veggies.
Foods such as peas, beans, lentils, some cereals, nuts, and seeds contain incredibly high levels of essential vitamins and minerals that are paramount to your health and well being (3). The primary reason is these foods are slowly digested and release their energy throughout the day rather than one big boost, and they are critical for brain function.
The foods I mentioned above are also incredibly rich in zinc, and B vitamins, particularly folate. There is evidence to suggest deficient levels of these nutrients are linked to the onset of depression.
It would be best if you strived to eat five servings of fruits and veggies daily in order to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function correctly.
Protein is also referred to as the building block of life and eating protein regularly throughout the day also helps prevent overeating by keeping you feeling full. Tryptophan is a potent powerhouse found in protein, and research suggests it can help mitigate depression.
Eating a diet high in protein should include a sufficient level of tryptophan and come from healthy sources.
Some of these sources include:
- game birds
- Vegetables including leafy greens, spinach, kale
Some of the best protein sources come in the forms of supplements, meat, fish, and eggs.
Recent research suggests that omega 3 oils, which are found in fish, have been linked to depression. Ideally, you should look to consume a minimum of 2 servings per week; however, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, ensure not to consume more than two servings per week.
Excellent sources of omega 3 include fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel.
If fish is not your thing, then trying an omega 3 supplement might be an excellent way to go. If you do happen to choose a supplement, make sure you select one that does not contain Vitamin A.
High levels of Vitamin A are stored in the liver and can grow to dangerous levels, causing unwanted calcium metabolism interactions.
Water and Fluids
Research does suggest that even a minimal reduction in water intake can negatively affect your brain function. You may not know, but your brain is made up of 78% water, so it logical to assume that drinking adequate amounts of water helps with efficient brain function.
It would be best if you ideally looked to drink 6-8 glasses of water or roughly 2 liters.
Coffee is a must for most people in the morning, including me, but research does suggest that drinking too much coffee can cause headaches and increase mood swings (4). Colas, energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster all contain high levels of caffeine.
Excessive alcohol use can lead to dehydration and Vitamin B deficiencies, making you feel depressed and anxious. Try to limit your alcohol consumption to a minimum of 2 drinks, 4-5 days of the week.
Weight Loss and Gain
Make sure to check with your health care professional about any medications you may be taking, as these drugs might well be the reason for weight loss/gain. Several drugs help boost appetite, while other medications can have adverse effects on appetite. Seek the advice of a dietician or nutritionist if you’re worried about your weight.
Exercising is a factor that should not be overlooked regarding weight gain/loss. Ideally, it would be best if you tried to get 30 minutes of daily exercise; walking after dinner is an excellent way to stay positive and healthy.
Limiting foods like potato chips and chocolate also helps to reduce your daily caloric intake.