Food and emotions are often inextricably linked. Lots of people comfort-eat when they are feeling upset or miserable, whereas others go off their food entirely. But aside from the blips in our appetite when we are unhappy, is there a link between diet and depression—and can eating the right foods really make a difference?
Depression is a very common illness and one in ten people will experience some kind of depressive episode at least once in their lifetime. Although medications and psychotherapy are essential for more severe cases of the illness, research has indicated that diet can also help alleviate the symptoms of depression, and whilst there is no “miracle diet” to magically make you feel better, eating the right kinds of foods can definitely make a big difference.
Diet and Depression – What Foods Can Help?
The first thing to remember is that we are what we eat and if you have been suffering from depression it is important to make sure that your diet is full of essential nutrients. Eating the right balance of nutrients helps keep you fit and healthy and without the correct balance of nutrients you are much more vulnerable to illness.
Depression can also be a symptom of other health problems such as heart disease and thyroid disease, so eating a healthy diet will improve your overall health.
There is a strong link between low levels of serotonin in the brain and depression, which is why we often crave starchy foods such as biscuits and cakes when we feel miserable and depressed, and a large number of cases of depression are linked to a lack of serotonin.
However, you should not cut out carbohydrates completely when you are suffering from depression as your body needs fuel for energy, so instead of shunning the unhealthy starchy foods, eat “good” carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Serotonin is made from an amino acid called Tryptophan, so try and include lots of tryptophan and protein-rich foods in your diet. Chicken, tuna, salmon and beans all contain the right ingredients to help increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.
The Mediterranean Diet and Depression
Cases of depression in Mediterranean countries are significantly lower and experts believe that eating a healthy Mediterranean diet packed full of fresh vegetables, fresh fish, olive oil and whole grains will help you beat depression.
Eating lots of fresh vegetables and oily fish can help provide plenty of omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and B vitamins, all of which have been shown to offer a good degree of protection against depressive illnesses.
GI Diet and Depression
Fluctuating levels of blood sugar can also play a significant role in depression. Eating foods that give you an instant sugar rush (think donuts and chocolate bars) will taste nice and be very comforting, but they can cause massive mood swings and exacerbate the symptoms depression.
In order to counteract this effect, try and choose low glycemic foods that release energy slowly: cereals, pulses, whole grains, fruits such as oranges and apples and avoid high glycemic foods such as white bread and potatoes.