Are you living with or have you ever fought depression? If so, then you are most likely craving comfort foods to lift your spirits. Depression affects 15% of Americans making it the leading cause of disability in the United States. No matter if it’s because of a recent stressful event or a chronic illness, some people find themselves unable to get past their situation even with medication and therapy. It is important that we learn ways to cope with our stress rather than letting depression win over us through unhealthy eating habits.
Food For Fighting Depression
Unfortunately, there’s no specific diet that’s been proven to relieve depression. Still, while certain eating plans or foods may not ease your symptoms or put you instantly in a better mood, a healthy diet may help as part of your overall treatment.
Antioxidants Prevent Cell Damage
Our bodies normally make molecules called free radicals, but these can lead to cell damage, aging, and other problems.
Studies show that your brain is particularly at risk. Although there’s no way to stop free radicals completely, you can be able to lessen their destructive effect by eating foods rich in antioxidants, including:
- Beta-carotene: apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, peaches, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato
- Vitamin C: blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomato
- Vitamin E: margarine, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ
“Smart” Carbs Can Have a Calming Effect
Carbohydrates are linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Experts aren’t sure, but carb cravings sometimes may be related to low serotonin activity.
Choose your carbs wisely. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart or “complex” carbs (such as whole grains) rather than simple carbs (such as cakes and cookies). Fruits, vegetables, and legumes also have healthy carbs and fiber.
Protein-Rich Foods Boost Alertness
Foods like turkey, tuna, and chicken have an amino acid called tryptophan, which may help you make serotonin. Try to eat something with protein several times a day, especially when you need to clear your mind and boost your energy.
Good sources of healthy proteins include beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soy products, and yogurt.
A Spanish study found that rates of depression tended to rise in men — especially smokers — as they got less folate. The same thing happened for women — especially those who smoked or didn’t exercise — but when they got less vitamin B12.
This wasn’t the first study to find a link between these vitamins and depression. Researchers aren’t sure which way the influence goes: do poor nutrient levels lead to depression, or does depression lead people to eat poorly?
In either case, you can get both of these B vitamins from foods in a Mediterranean diet. Legumes, nuts, many fruits, and dark green vegetables have folate. Vitamin B12 can be found in all lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.
Foods That Help Fight Depression
It’s a good source of vitamin D. If you have very low levels of this nutrient in your body, that can sometimes cause depression. One Norwegian study found that people who took a vitamin D supplement were less depressed a year later than those who didn’t. Don’t like milk? Boost the D in your diet with enriched cereals and juices, and canned fish.
The traditional Thanksgiving bird has the protein building-block tryptophan, which your body uses to make serotonin. That’s a brain chemical that plays a key role in depression, researchers say. In fact, some antidepressant drugs work by targeting the way your brain uses serotonin. You can get the same mood-boosting effect from chicken and soybeans.
This snack is rich in selenium, which helps protect your body from tiny, damaging particles called free radicals. One study found that young people who didn’t have enough of this nutrient in their diets were more likely to be depressed. The researchers couldn’t say that low selenium caused depression, though. Just one Brazil nut has almost half your daily requirement of the mineral so be careful to limit how many you eat. Other foods with this mineral include brown rice, lean beef, sunflower seeds, and seafood.
They’re full of beta-carotene, which you can also get from pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. Studies have linked this nutrient to lower levels of depression. There’s not enough evidence to say that it can prevent the disorder, but it can’t hurt to get more in your diet.
Clams and Mussels
These seafood favorites are a good source of B-12. Some studies say that people with low levels of the vitamin are more likely to have depression. It may be that a lack of it causes a shortage of a substance called s-adenosylmethionine (SAM), which your brain needs to process other chemicals that affect your mood. If you’re looking for other B-12 foods, try lean beef, milk, and eggs.
A jolt of caffeine can be a pick-me-up that helps you feel more motivated. But if you have postpartum depression or panic disorder, some studies suggest that it might make your symptoms worse. Other researchers say a cup of joe can lower your risk of getting depression, though they’re not sure why.
They’re packed with folate, which your brain cells need to work well and which may help protect against depression. Food manufacturers in the U.S. add this vitamin, also known as B9, to enriched grains like pasta and rice. You can also get it from lentils, lima beans, and asparagus.
This and other fish like herring and tuna are high in polyunsaturated fats. Researchers think those can help you fight depression. One type of these fats, called omega-3 fatty acids, may help brain cells use chemicals that can affect your mood. A few small studies show that people who weren’t depressed had higher levels of omega-3s than those with the mood disorder.
It might seem like just the thing to take the edge off your worries or make you feel more social. But most of the time, it’s best if you drink wine, beer, and mixed drinks only in moderation. You might feel better in the moment, but heavy drinking can make depression symptoms worse over time, because alcohol makes your brain less active. It also can make antidepressant medications less effective.
Caution: Junk Food
It may be fast and filling, but these processed foods can be bad news for your mood. Scientists have studied how diets high in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and fatty foods affect how you feel. Many found some link between these unhealthy eats and depression. Your best bet: a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.