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Diet and Depression: 5 Foods to Eat Up When You’re Down, and 5 to Avoid

Darren Maung
Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
Published: August 27, 2021
Food can play an important role in managing depression. (Image: Nataliya Vaitkevich via Pexels)

Everyone experiences periods of melancholy, sorrow, and regret. If we are not proactive in dealing with these emotions, they can easily escalate into depression and despair. The food we consume can play a large part in what direction our moods take. While the “comfort foods” that we cherish as mood enhancers can bring temporary relief in the pleasure of consuming them, they are often exactly what we should avoid. 

The food we eat is made up of various components that are capable of  influencing not only our physical, but also our mental health. Let’s look at some dietary considerations for maintaining a healthy outlook on life.

Five foods to avoid when depressed

  1. Sugar 

Refined sugars and carbohydrates used to sweeten processed foods lack the necessary vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial materials that keep our body healthy.

Sugar leads to health problems, such as weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and even the risk of cancer. Excessive sugar consumption can cause our bodily energy to rise and fall, making us tired and depressed.

One study has shown that inflammation is also caused by sugar consumption. This can lead to symptoms such as loss of appetite, affected sleeping patterns, and intense sensations of pain. 

  1. White Bread

Although bread can be a staple food for a healthy diet, we should watch out for white bread.

To make white flour, the grains are processed to remove the bran and the germ. What’s left is only the endosperm. This gives bread a longer shelf-life, makes it easily digestible, and gives a smoother, lighter texture.

Unfortunately, the process also gets rid of most of the necessary vitamins and minerals that the human body needs. Manufacturers enrich the flour by adding vitamins back in, but they are not as healthy as the natural, unprocessed ones.

Refined carbohydrates in white bread will increase blood sugar levels in our body. That causes a hormonal response to activate and reduce the levels, causing fatigue.

  1. Fast Food

Fast food, like your favorite McDonald’s french fries, usually contains high quantities of sodium (salt) and artificial trans fats that also cause inflammation in the body. 

Moreover, the gut microbes and the blood flow in the brain will be disrupted. That impairs cognitive function and can put you into a depressive state.

  1. Alcohol

A glass of wine or a bottle of beer causes the body to relax, which tempts us to drink more to hide anxiety and stress.

Yet alcohol will severely impact areas in the brain that promote thought-processing and decision-making, and hinder motor activity as well. That makes us more susceptible to taking dangerous risks.

According to a study conducted by the American Addiction Center, people are more likely to develop depression from drinking alcohol; while quitting alcohol consumption helps eliminate symptoms of depression.

  1. Caffeine

While coffee does help our mental clarity, the caffeine that perks us up can also be harmful.

Caffeine can cause anxiety, disruptions of sleep, painful headaches, and an increased heart rate. It was also found that children and adolescents are at a higher risk of depression when consuming caffeine, overcome with restlessness and an inability to sleep.

Five food-factors that help diminish depression

  1. Omega-3

These fatty acids are great for improving brain function by releasing serotonin, neurotransmitters that send messages from one part of the brain to another. 

Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids are more effective in treating children and adults suffering from unipolar, bipolar, and childhood depressions than placebo.

Many kinds of fish, seafood, nuts (especially walnuts), and plant oils, are excellent sources of omega-3 that can help our brains function better.

  1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D keeps our bones, cells, and immune system strong. It’s called the “sunshine” vitamin, because it enters our body through exposure to the sun, as well as consuming fish, fish oil, milk, and egg yolks.

Studies show a link between vitamin D deficiencies and depression. With a lack of the vitamin, our body and bones weaken and feel pain. We also get drowsy and become less active. 

  1. Selenium

Selenium is a mineral which is taken in by the body for reproduction and thyroid health. It also prevents cell damage and risk of cancer. Whole-grain bread, meats, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts are great sources of selenium.

Symptoms of selenium deficiency include infertility in men and women, muscle weakness, fatigue and a weakened immune system. A study on the connection between selenium and depression discovered that low intake of selenium leads to major depressive disorders.

  1. Carbohydrates

As foods with refined carbohydrates are associated with higher risks of depression, carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in fiber decrease risk. With the right grains, the brain can release serotonin to keep our minds at work and prevent fatigue from making us feel depressed. 

  1. Protein

Lean meats, like chicken and turkey, contain amino acids called tryptophan, which triggers serotonin and heightens brain activity. In addition to tryptophan and selenium, these meats also provide a rich source of iron to prevent anemia, which causes fatigue and irritation in the body.

Food for thought

Food is an essential part of our lives as a vital source of health and pleasure. While some foods can brighten our moods, we must also be cautious of their negative impacts that will slow us down both physically and mentally. Developing a habit of eating wholesome, nutrient-rich foods, we can maintain high spirits, and stay motivated to do good for ourselves, our human race, and our planet.