Healthy Food: A Powerful Tool for People Dealing with Depression & Anxiety

If you're struggling with mental health issues, you have probably heard your portion of good advice: You should exercise more! You're following the wrong diet! It's all about the mindset - have you tried meditation?

Even though these are rarely ill-intentioned, hearing them all over again can be infuriating, especially if you are undertaking therapy or on medication - the hard work you do to get better seems to have no end.

Contrary to what some people believe, food and physical activity can't cure depression and anxiety. However, it is true that eating the right foods and exercising is crucial for better management. And right now, as health experts from Primal Harvest say they can't stress enough, it is more important than ever to take care of one's mental health. With the pandemic and quarantine problems piling up in our lives, the least we can do is nourish our bodies with mood-boosting, nutritious foods.

Healthy Diet as a Vital Part of Depression Treatment

The most optimal and effective treatment of depression and anxiety involves the right combination of medications, therapy, and self-care. Medication can help you on the spot, but they don't constitute a long-term solution on their own. Psychotherapy has you working on yourself to resolve your issues and find healthier coping mechanisms for the future. Self-care is essential, so that you can avoid triggers, find balance, and significantly reduce the risk of relapse.

According to an analysis, there is a pattern indicating that eating a lot of red or unprocessed meat, high-fat dairy, refined grains, or sugar can indeed increase the risk of depression. At the same time, high consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and antioxidant-rich foods can significantly improve your overall health, mental health included.

Moreover, some studies have shown an even closer link between a diet and depression - it does not only lower the risk of falling ill, but it may help those already struggling to deal with the symptoms of depression, such as low moods and anxiety.

So, while a healthy diet, good night's sleep, and physical activity can't cure anxiety and depression on their own, they are vital to prevention and recovery. After all, there's a reason why there's a separate field of medicine focused on nutritional psychiatry.

Healthy Food for Depression

There's no specific diet carefully planned and proven to always help with symptoms of depression, but there are lists of recommended foods as well as those you'd rather avoid. The beneficial ingredients can all be introduced into your diet, but you should have your blood tested regularly and stay in contact with your doctor. In some cases, you may have a higher need for a specific nutrient and require supplementation.

So, what should you include in your diet to feel better?

  • Omega-3 fatty acids might be helpful if you struggle with depressive disorders. They can improve the functioning of your brain, thus reducing the risk of brain diseases, and they protect the nerve cells. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water fish (e.g., salmon or tuna), walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, and flaxseed oil.
  • Selenium is widely believed to improve mood and reduce anxiety. It can be found in, e.g., organ meats, Brazil nuts, whole grains, or seafood.
  • Antioxidants, which can be found in vitamin A, C, and E, are necessary for removing free radicals (natural waste products) from your body, the excess of which causes a variety of health problems, including proneness to lower moods.
  • Vitamin D is known for the support it provides to your immunity system, but it can also be helpful while dealing with major depression. You can increase your intake of this vitamin by eating, for example, eggs, beef liver, fortified dairy, or oily fish. People get most of their vitamin D from the synthesis triggered by the sunlight, so it is recommended to supplement it during colder months when there's less sun.
  • B vitamins - vitamin B12 and B9 (folic acid) - support a healthy nervous system, and their lack can worsen any mood disorders. Folic acid can be added to your diet with whole grains, dairy, eggs, nuts, beans, fruits, or dark leafy vegetables, while vitamin B-12 with animal products, such as eggs, meat, poultry, fish, milk, or oysters, plus, some fortified cereals.
  • A protein called tryptophan is essential for your body to create serotonin, the happy hormone. You can get more tryptophan and boost your serotonin production by eating, e.g., chickpeas, tuna, or turkey.
  • A new study has shown that even our gut can impact our moods - for example, a considerable amount of serotonin is produced there. That's why it's crucial to get enough probiotics and prebiotics.

Depression and Eating Disorders

Sadly, it is not rare for people with depression to struggle with eating disorders as well. It is not always sure what comes first - sometimes they don't eat or overeat because they feel depressed, in other cases, people feel worse because they seem not to be able to control their eating habits - there's undoubtedly a link.

Very often, eating becomes a coping mechanism - one tries to feel better by eating their favorite meals and snacks (which too often mean unhealthy processed foods), or their decreased body image prevents them from eating as much as they should in the hope of losing some weight.

It's actually common for people with obesity linked to eating disorders to suffer from other kinds of mental issues as well.

Moreover, both overeating and not eating enough will eventually pose a threat to your overall health, not only mental well-being.

Holistic Approach Is Key

Depression is a serious and sadly common illness that should not be taken lightly and neglected. It is vital to seek medical assistance and psychiatric help in order to learn managing mood disorders and unhealthy coping mechanisms. While nothing will replace professional therapy and medications, it is vital to make significant changes in one's lifestyle to get better eventually.

Switching to the right diet is one of the best things you can do for your own health. We hope this article will help you initiate changes and encourage you to look for further health information.

The most important thing to remember is to stay attentive and reasonable. There's nothing wrong with consuming treats from time to time, as long as daily meals don't include too much sugar, processed foods, or excess additives.

This article was kindly written and contributed by Natalia Kołkowska

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