Depression can make simple tasks feel difficult or impossible, including eating nutritious food. You crave junk food when you feel upset or stressed, and when those feelings are amplified by depression, all you want is comfort food.
Unfortunately, you cannot treat depression through nutrition alone. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to have a more nutritious diet. Depression is hard on your body, and a healthy diet can help improve your overall well-being. Here are a few things to consider when eating to fight depression:
The Importance of a Nutritious Diet
Depression can affect all aspects of your life, including your appetite. Some people may always feel hungry while others may not want to eat at all. Either way, don’t underestimate the importance of meeting all of your vitamin and mineral needs. Eating your nutrients is best, but you can take a daily multivitamin or supplement if that isn’t feasible.
Though individuals have different needs, everyone can benefit from incorporating foods that are high in vitamins and minerals into their diet. More often than not, these are foods you’re already told to eat more of: nuts and legumes, fresh produce, and lean sources of protein.
Vital Nutrients for Mental Health
Though all nutrients are vital to a healthy life, there are some to focus on to help combat depression.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are thought to help with mental health. Your brain needs omega-3 fatty acids to function properly, and some researchers believe people who have depression might not have enough fatty acids. Initial results indicate that using omega-3 fatty acids to treat depression may work, but more research needs to be done before making any conclusions. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are walnuts and a variety of fish, including salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
A diet low in carbohydrates may contribute to depression. Not only are they the main source of energy for the human body, carbohydrates trigger the production of serotonin and tryptophan — two of the chemicals responsible for making you feel happy. Opt for whole grain breads and pastas and produce with a low glycemic index, such as bananas, strawberries, oranges, and most vegetables. Simple carbohydrates, often found in sweets, will provide temporary relief but will leave you feeling worse; complex carbs will help more in the long-term.
Selenium is a mineral that has antioxidant properties, making it beneficial to your health in myriad ways. Studies have shown a link between low selenium intake and depression. Eat foods with high selenium content like poultry, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. Humans only need a small amount of selenium, and an overdose can come with adverse side effects.
Foods That Exacerbate Depression
One of the best things you can do to help combat depression is to eliminate drugs and alcohol from your diet. It’s all too easy to become reliant on drugs and alcohol for a temporary escape from your problems. Substance use can intensify depression in the long-run, so it’s best avoided altogether.
Instead, replace your nightly drink with something else. Treat yourself to a soda, glass of juice, or a “mocktail.” If you want to stick with water, try something sparkling or with a little flavor added to keep it interesting.
In addition, refined or added sugars may also worsen depression. Sugar provides temporary relief and happiness, but will leave you feeling worse after their effects wear off. Even in the long-term, people with increased sugar intake had higher rates of depression.
Keep in mind that depression is a complex mental illness, and diet is not the only thing that can treat it. You should also consult your doctor or a trusted healthcare professional before trying any new forms of treatment. But if you’re looking for a natural way to boost yourself out of a depressive episode, eating depression-fighting foods is a good place to start.
Madison Ann Baker is a writer, Netflix-binger, and pop culture enthusiast who lives in Idaho. Literature and linguistics are her two passions, both of which she studied in college. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with her dog and binge-reading fantasy novels.