There are many factors that contribute to experiencing depression: personality, genetics, brain chemistry, lifestyle, even the weather.
Sometimes people use food as a means to cope with their depression, or just to feel better. Many times, though, the foods people turn to—such as foods high in saturated fat, sugars, and heavily processed ingredients—have the opposite effect. These foods can do as much to keep people in the dumps as provide any real perks, physical or mental.
However, the right diet and regular exercise can help keep depression symptoms to a minimum, and may help prevent their reoccurrence. A good first step is to eat regular meals (breakfast is still the most important meal of the day) at regular intervals—doing so has numerous benefits for physical and mental health. From there, there are some specific foods to avoid if you want to stay out of a rut, and others you should try if you’re stuck in one:
Foods to Avoid
Caffeine and Sugary Foods
Caffeine may be difficult for many people to completely eliminate from their diet, but it is good to only have caffeinated drinks in moderation—particularly when experiencing depression-like symptoms. Caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns and make you feel anxious, both of which complicate depression-related symptoms. By the same token, eating sugary sweets and treats cause mood and energy levels into peaks and valleys, which can further exacerbate depression-related symptoms.
Alcohol and Recreational Drugs
When feeling depressed, it can be easy to turn to alcohol or other methods of “self-medication.” While there may appear to be short-term relief, these substances usually only make things worse, by throwing off sleep cycles, causing mood swings and anxiety, and competing with doctor-prescribed medications (or rendering medications ineffective). Rather than reaching for a cold one when feeling down, try to “medicate” with healthier food choices instead.
Foods that Might Help
'Good' Carbs to Boost Mood
Carbohydrates are associated with the mood-lifting neurotransmitter serotonin. So instead of trying to avoid them, eating the right kind of carbs can be a good choice when feeling down. Try to stay away from the sugary snack foods and go for fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber, and stick to whole-grain breads and other healthy carbohydrates.
While more research is still being done on omega-3 fatty acids, the main benefit they are associated with is probably improved brain function (perhaps the phrase “brain food” comes to mind?). Foods rich in omega-3s, like fish—particularly anchovies, salmon, tuna, etc.—nuts, canola, and flaxseed oils can also help fend off depression, as several studies have shown. Nuts and dark green leafy vegetables are also good sources of omega-3s.
Several studies have shown that people who have deficient levels of vitamin D are more like to experience depression-related symptoms. While is unclear how much vitamin D is enough, what is clear is that the brain responds well to regular vitamin D intake, so it is a good idea to regularly eat foods like fish, tofu, and (of course) milk.
While the many physical benefits of maintaining a balanced, healthy diet are well-known, what might not be as well know is how those same simple dietary tips can help to elevate mood, energy levels and an overall sense of well-being. When feeling depressed, or even negatively affected by a change in the seasons, knowing the right foods to eat can help to overcome those symptoms and keep depression at bay.
Selenium is an element that is essential for good health, and several research studies have suggested a link between selenium deficiencies and depression. Some additional research studies have seemed to indicate that taking selenium may in fact actually decrease feelings of depression. Selenium can be found in nuts, whole grains, beans, seafood and lean meats. Too much selenium can be toxic, however, so talk to your doctor before taking any selenium supplements.