How to Make Food Your First Line of Defense Against Depression

In June 2020, depression and anxiety were up threefold across America compared to the same time last year, reports the CDC. The knee-jerk reaction is too often popping a pill. What if we looked at food more methodically to engineer homeostasis within? Eating healthier can improve symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and nausea, says psychiatrist Leela Magavi. Feeling more alert and energetic can domino into other mood-boosting behaviors like exercise and self-care. What’s more, a growing body of research suggests certain nutrients may help rein in anxious feelings and curb depression.

 

Fatten Up Your Diet

People who eat a Mediterranean-like diet—high in omega-3-rich fish, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, but low in meat and dairy—are the least likely to develop anxiety. Healthy fats lower inflammation (linked to depressive symptoms) and boost production of a specific brain protein (BDNF) that influences neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to form new connections and communicate effectively, says Jody Bergeron, RN.

Try it: Eat fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, and avocados, or take a supple-ment with EPA and DHA to get up to 2,000 milligrams of omega-3 per day.

The Whole of It

Twelve key vitamins and minerals—including iron, omega-3s, magnesium, zinc, plus vitamin C, B6 and 12—help prevent and treat depressive disorders. An international meta-analysis concluded that ingesting a full spectrum (30+) can ease mood dysregulation, ADHD, aggression, and anxiety. Your gut and brain have a direct line of communication, so micronutrients impact inflammation levels and mood, Bergeron says. Vegetables and whole grains keep your gut microbiome diverse and healthy—necessary since nearly 90 percent of the happiness hormone serotonin is produced in the GI tract, she adds.

Try it: Every day, load up on leafy greens, fresh herbs, whole grains (oats, farro, wild rice), quinoa, beans, nuts, cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage), berries, and other colorful produce. Get more probiotic foods like miso, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt, too.

Ditch the Sugar to Dampen Depression

Men who consume a lot of sugar are nearly a quarter more likely to develop anxiety or depression over five years, while the low-sugar DASH diet helps older adults stave off depression. Too much sweet stuff creates insulin resistance, which increases inflammation and releases chronic stress hormones, Magavi explains. Higher glucose levels slow brain cell growth and lower overall connectivity.

Try it: Cut back on added sugar, at least to the RDA of 6 percent of daily calories.

The Nutrition Plan to Boost Mood and Fight Depression

  • Breakfast: Green tea, half a grapefruit, an omelet with sautéed veggies, fresh herbs, a small amount of cheese, and olive oil, plus a side of whole-grain toast.
  • Mid-Morning Snack: Cottage cheese and blueberries topped with honey crunch wheat germ.
  • Lunch: Mexican bowl with black beans, farro, corn, red cabbage, leafy greens, avocado, salsa, and cheese.
  • Afternoon Snack: A few squares of 60 percent dark chocolate with almonds.
  • Dinner: Broiled wild sockeye salmon or steamed mussels with a side of brown rice and steamed asparagus or broccoli.
  • Dessert: Plain Greek yogurt topped with berries and whole-grain granola.

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