The link between what you eat and your mental outlook
The first thing to keep in mind is that there is no specific overall diet that will improve your mood or keep depression away. There are, however, depression-fighting foods that can help improve your mental and emotional wellbeing. At least that's what we're learning from a growing body of research.
What the studies tell us is that dietary changes can bring about corresponding changes in your brain structure, both chemically and physiologically. Without delving into the brain science behind it, it's these changes that can help improve your mood and your general outlook on life.
And what is this nutritional approach? Fortunately, it's nothing too exotic. In fact, we're looking at the same kinds of foods that are part of a healthier diet in general. So as it turns out, what's good for you body is also good for your mind. Here are some examples of what you should strongly consider adding to or keeping in your diet and why:
The Calming Effect of Carbs: The connection between carbohydrates and mood is linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Also, all the carbohydrates you eat are broken down into sugar that your brain needs to function. Just keep in mind that too much of that sugar causes peaks and valleys in your blood glucose level that can cause or aggravate feelings of depression.
So don't keep carbohydrates out of your diet, just opt for the "smart carbs" found in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and legumes, all of which also contribute fiber as well as healthy carbs.
Essential Antioxidants Really are Essential: Damaging molecules called free radicals are produced in our bodies during normal body functions -- and these free radicals contribute to aging and dysfunction. The bad news here is that the brain is particularly at risk for free radical damage.
There's no way to stop free radicals completely, but antioxidants such as beta-carotene (find it in apricots, broccoli, carrots, cantaloupe, peaches, spinach and sweet potatoes), vitamin C (it's in citrus fruit, strawberries, blue berries, tomatoes, peppers and broccoli) and vitamin E (try nuts and seeds, vegetable oils and wheat germ) have the ability to combat its negative effect.
Vitamin D is a Great DEE fense: A recent and extensive national study showed that und that the likelihood of having depression is higher in people with deficiency in vitamin D compared to people who are sufficient in vitamin D. In a large-scale Canadian study, researchers found that people who were suffering from depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to improve as their levels of vitamin D in the body increased.
Vitamin D is found in very few foods but it's added to many dairy products, is available in supplements and can be absorbed through the skin by exposure to sunlight.
Eat Like an Icelander: It's cold, it's isolated and for half the year the sun barely rises in the sky. So why aren't the inhabitants of Iceland depressed? It's all that fish they eat, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. .
We know that omega-3 fatty acids have innumerable benefits including their role in cardiovascular health. What scientists are finding out now is that a deficit of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression. Studies show that societies that eat more fish and get ample omega 3's have a lower prevalence of depressive disorders. Good sources include fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad and tune, as well as flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, soybean oil and dark green leafy vegetables.
Bring the Mediterranean to the Bay: A lot of research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet with it's emphasis on fish, plant-based food, legumes and nuts, reduced amounts of red meat and olive oil is associated with heart health along with a reduced incidence of certain cancers, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Research also shows that the same diet has a positive impact on mood and overall mental outlook.
The reason may be related to the fact that the Mediterranean diet is high in both folic acid and vitamin B12. Deficiencies of folic acid and B12 appear to be associated with depression. In addition, the same deficiencies have also been linked to a poor response to antidepressant medication.
A large part of the connection between an improved diet and your mental and emotional wellbeing doesn't require much research beyond your personal experience. When you eat better, you feel better, and that includes your mind as well as your body. But consider this, too:
Some of the evidence related to depression and diet is not yet strong enough to make the case that eating a particular food, group or foods, nutrient or supplement is sufficient to ward off depression. In any case, no diet by itself is a substitute for good medical counsel and care.
- Return to Newsletter Home