There has been plenty of information provided about how living a healthy lifestyle contributes to having a happier, less stressed life, particularly engaging in regular physical and social activities and having adequate sleep.  However, more research is coming to light about the relationship between nutrition and mental health and the research has been fascinating.

Numerous studies have found that a healthy diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, have been associated with a lower risk of developing depression.  Indeed, a 2017 study found that the symptoms of people with moderate-to-severe depression improved when their diet focused on fresh and whole foods and limited processed refined foods.  Results indicated that depressive symptoms, including mood and anxiety, improved enough to achieve remission criteria in more than 32% of the participants.  Alternatively, other research has shown that a diet rich in processed food may increase the risk of depression.

Although results linking nutrition and depression cannot indicate ‘causality’, it is believed that nutrition may assist with mental health through several means. Unhealthy foods such as fast foods or high sugar sweets can increase inflammation in our digestive system and people with higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood have been shown to be more likely to develop depression in the future.   Also, we know that the level of neurotransmitters in our brain influences our functioning and mood, and the production of neurotransmitters requires adequate amounts of nutrients. Increasing certain amino acids, minerals, and fatty-acids assists in the production of these neurotransmitters.

Interestingly enough, I had a client recently state that they struggled with regular bout of depression over several years and started consuming probiotics on a daily basis. Since they changed their diet, their depressive symptoms have not returned and their mood feels more stable.

So, what foods/nutrients may help in improving our mental health?

Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for cognitive function and a healthy immune system. Foods high in Selenium include: whole grains, Brazil nuts, some seafood and organ meats, such as liver.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D may help improve the symptoms of depression. People obtain most of their vitamin D through sun exposure, but dietary sources also include: oily fish, fortified dairy products, beef liver and egg.

Omega-3 fatty acids.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts.

Antioxidants

Vitamins A, C, and E contain substances called antioxidants, which help remove waste products of natural bodily processes that can build up in the body. Fresh, plant based foods, such as berries, are good sources of antioxidants. A diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, soy, and other plant products may help reduce the stress-related symptoms of depression.

B vitamins

Vitamins B-12 and B-9 (folate, or folic acid) help protect and maintain the nervous system, including the brain. Sources of vitamin B-12 include: eggs, meat, poultry, fish. Foods that contain folate include: dark leafy vegetables, fruit and fruit juices, nuts Beans, whole grains, dairy products, meat and poultry, seafood, eggs.

Zinc

Zinc boosts the immune system and some studies have suggested that zinc levels may be lower in people with depression. Zinc is present in: whole grains,  oysters, beef, chicken, and pork, beans, nuts and pumpkin seeds.

Protein

Protein enables the body to grow and repair, and the body uses a protein called tryptophan to create serotonin, the “feel good” hormone. Tryptophan is present in: tuna, turkey, chickpeas.

Probiotics

Foods such as yogurt and kefir may boost the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut which help digestion and reduce inflammation.

 

Foods to avoid

Some foods may aggravate the symptoms of depression.

Alcohol

There is a clear link between alcohol and mental health problems. Regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol can lead to further complications, such as accidents, family issues, loss of employment, and ill health.

Refined foods

Convenience foods, such as fast food, those high in sugar and refined carbs and junk food, can be high in calories and low in nutrients.  Studies have suggested that people who consume lots of fast food are more likely to have depression than those who eat mostly fresh produce.

Processed oils

Refined and saturated fats can trigger inflammation, and they may also impair brain function and worsen the symptoms of depression. Fats to avoid include: trans fats, which are present in many processed foods, fats in red and processed meats, safflower and corn oil, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids.

 

Mixed Results

Caffeine

Moderate intake of caffeine, may benefit people with depression. Caffeine’s benefits could be due to its stimulant effect and antioxidants properties. However, some research has found that it may increase feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression in children of high school age. In addition, caffeine can affect a person’s ability to sleep. While caffeine may benefit some people, it is best to consume it only in moderation, avoid products with a high caffeine content, such as energy drinks, avoid caffeine after midday. Caffeine is present in: coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, energy drinks

 

So if you have been suffering from Depression, it may be worth reviewing your diet to see if you may be contributing to your mental health difficulties. A review of your diet with a dietician may also be helpful.

If you would like further information please do not hesitate to contact us at the practice on 6381 0071.

Darren West

Darren is a Psychologist who enjoys working with adolescents and adults on a wide range of presenting concerns including; depression and anxiety, grief and loss, parenting skills, family issues, trauma/PTSD, sleep hygiene, guilt and shame, anger management, drug and alcohol issues and phobias.
Darren West

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