Depression is a mood disorder with a diagnosis that isn’t always as clear-cut as one would hope. Depression is usually described as sadness, hopelessness, loss or anger, which persist and can impair daily activities. There are various causes of depression, as well as various methods of treatment. A holistic approach is important when it comes to treatment. This ranges from psychology, medical management, self-care, nutrition and many more.
When one is equipped with the knowledge of healthy eating choices, it can be an incredible tool in assisting one’s mental health. Although more studies are still required to confirm these findings, research has found that healthy eating patterns may decrease the risk of depression, whereas western-style diets may increase this risk.
Emphasis has been placed on following the Mediterranean diet.
This diet is rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes and seafood. It includes moderate amounts of chicken, eggs, cheese and yoghurt. The Mediterranean diet also recommends that red meat is rarely eaten. Foods to be avoided include sugar and foods with added sugar, refined grains such as white bread, processed meats such as viennas and bacon, trans fats which are usually found in bakery goods and fried foods, and lastly refined oils such as canola or soybean oil. In order to recognise such ingredients, it is vital to read food labels.
Studies have further shown that gut microbiota (which are microorganisms that live in our digestive tract) can influence a person’s mental health. It is important to remember that the brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, thinking about a meal can release digestive juices before food enters the stomach. In the same way that a distressed gut can send signals to the brain, a distressed brain can also send signals to the gut. This brings about the importance to ensure healthy and diverse gut microbiota. It is therefore encouraged that one eats a variety of plant foods, including fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and grains. This is inline with above recommendations of the Mediterranean diet.
One could also look to specific foods that “boost the brain”. These include:
• Fatty fish – Mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, herring are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for one’s brain health.
• Curcumin – This is a compound found in turmeric which acts as both an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, whilst also shown to improve symptoms of depression.
• Pumpkin seeds – This is a great source of zinc and magnesium. Deficiencies or low levels of either of these nutrients have been linked to depression.
• Eggs – Eggs contain folate and vitamin B12. A deficiency in B vitamins has also been linked to depression.
Whether you manage to include certain nutritious foods in your diet, or whether you make progress in eliminating certain unhealthy foods, these actions should be considered a success. Small steps in the right direction should be celebrated!