If you or someone you know suffers from depression, it’s important to pay attention to one of the simplest and most-overlooked treatment factors: diet. When people get depressed, they tend to either starve themselves or overeat, two extremes that are terribly unhealthy and only worsen the symptoms of depression. Not only is weight change a sign of depression, but sudden and enduring weight loss or weight gain compounds the negative effects of depression, making things worse.
Unfortunately, diet doesn’t top the list of concerns for people with depression such as disabled persons, the poor and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but its importance cannot be overemphasized.
"Veterans face serious challenges in terms of illness, lost benefits, personal injury and disability insurance disputes," says Rose Burberry-Martin, marketing director for the law firm of Chisholm, Chisholm, and Kilpatrick LTD. "Some of these folks are already dealing with the effects of PTSD including depression and suicidal tendencies, and the last thing they need is a diet that deprives them of the nutrients required for recovery."
A balanced, regular diet is important for everyone, but especially for those fighting depression and other mental illnesses. Furthermore, certain foods are especially beneficial for brain health. Here’s a list of some nutrients and their food sources that are important for maintaining good mental health, along with a couple of simple and delicious brain food recipes.
Glucose is brain fuel. The main source of glucose is complex carbohydrates, found in unprocessed food that comes from plants, particularly foods containing whole grains, nuts and seeds. Carbohydrates break down into blood sugar, which feeds the brain.
It’s important to keep glucose levels balanced and steady, since drastic changes will result directly into mood swings. Processed grains like bleached flour can lead to mood swings because most of the “digestion” has already been done outside the body, leading to a spike in glucose upon consumption.
Eating these foods also increases our level tryptophan, which is converted to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn makes us feel good.
Turmeric, the spice common to Indian food, has a number of wonderful health benefits. Turmeric is a proven antioxidant and antidepressant, and it may even fight brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Besides that, turmeric may help to deal with fear memories, a particular problem for people with PTSD. A study showed that curcumin, the yellow compound found in turmeric, helps to suppress long-term traumatic memories. Pass the curry!
It’s also useful to know that the pepperine in black pepper boosts turmeric blood levels by increasing its bioavailability.
Much more than a garnish, parsley is a superfood you should try to sneak into any meal. Its extreme nutritional profile boasts vitamins, minerals and antioxidants important for brain health, including vitamins A, C, E, K, folate, B-complex, calcium and iron. So much goodness for such a tiny herb.
The brain benefits from omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in salmon, canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, walnuts, flaxseed, apples and pears. These foods improve memory and mood.
Omega-3 fat is anti-inflammatory, and since brain inflammation may cause depression, eating foods that decrease inflammation can help.
High-protein foods like meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, milk and tofu contain an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine increases energy and alertness because it helps the body produce neurotransmitters like dopamine and epinephrine.
Be careful about inflammation caused by too much consumption of these foods, however. Balance is key.
Vitamin K is found in foods like kale, spinach, broccoli and blueberries. Among its many benefits, vitamin K protects neurons and helps bring more oxygen to the brain.
Briefly, maintaining proper levels of the following nutrients will also help fight depression and anxiety.
Vitamin D increases serotonin, and a lack of vitamin D causes depression. Drinking milk fortified with Vitamin D does a body and a brain good.
Selenium is important for keeping one’s mood steady. Sources of selenium include brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna and halibut.
Lack of folic acid, which is contained in green vegetables, oranges, sprouts and nuts, can lead to depression, especially in men.
It’s important to keep B-12 levels maintained, especially for women, by eating lean meats like grass-fed beef, lamb and wild-caught salmon.
Low thiamine levels can result in fatigue and decreased self-confidence, so eat whole grains, pork, eggs, yeast and cauliflower.
Choline deficiency can impair concentration. Some sources of choline are soybeans, peanuts, lentils, sesame seeds and flaxseed.
Finally, lacking iron can lead to depression and an inability to pay attention. A diet containing red meat, egg yolks, beans and artichokes will help maintain iron levels.
Recipe: Baked Salmon
This salmon, topped with a tangy, earthy, herby dressing is good for your taste buds and your brain.
1 ½ lbs wild salmon, cut into 4 fillets
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chopped parsley
1 tsp salt
½ tsp chopped garlic
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp black pepper
Preheat oven to 375℉. Cover a baking dish with parchment paper and lay salmon on top. Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl, then pour over salmon. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until flaky.
Recipe: Green & Seed Salad
A satisfying alternative to the typical broccoli salad.
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup chopped kale
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup mayo
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chopped garlic
½ cup chopped scallions
¼ cup dried blueberries
Bragg’s liquid aminos to taste
Just toss and serve!
Balance is key
Self-regulating one’s diet can be especially difficult for someone with depression. Depression fluctuates due to external and internal factors, and not all of those factors can be controlled. Fortunately, a lot of delicious food can be prepared to help with those internal factors. Ups and downs can be expected, but with a little effort and consideration, progress can be made toward more balanced, brain-healthy eating habits that will lead to recovery.