We may know that "we are what we eat" and know of the physical benefits of good nutrition and the physical health consequences of a poor diet, but we don’t often consider the way the foods we eat influence the way we feel.
Poor eating habits can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and some of these deficiencies can cause depressive symptoms. Poor eating habits can lead to bouncing blood sugar levels and the oscillating moods that accompany them; which can also wreak havoc on emotional well being.
Our brains require nutrition. We consume the building blocks daily of neurotransmitters that can make us feel great, or when depleted, can make us feel terrible. What we eat and the way we eat it can influence the way we feel, and in some extreme cases, poor nutrition can provoke a state of major depression.
Most people, once depressed, tend to eat poorly, but nutritional intake during a period of clinical depression influences the severity of depressive symptoms. Good eating habits during a period of active depression can shorten and better symptoms, while poor eating habits can lengthen and worsen a period of symptomology.
Eat a healthy balanced diet, eat regularly throughout the day (at least thrice) and make sure that you consume adequate levels of essential vitamins and minerals – You've heard it all before, and it's advice that makes sense for anyone, but for someone worried about, or experiencing depression, good nutrition can be a lifesaver.
Nutritional Guidelines for Depression
Certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause depressive feelings. Anyone experiencing depressive symptoms should speak with their doctor to rule out physical or nutritional causes.
Ensuring adequate consumption of the following vitamins and minerals is a good idea for anyone and an essential idea for anyone feeling depressed.
Make Sure You Get Enough:
Folate (Folic Acid)
Folate is thought to play a major role in nutritional depression. Studies have shown that many depressed people have low folate levels, and very low folate levels are associated with more severe depressive symptoms. Many Americans struggle to eat sufficient green leafy vegetables that provide folate and so many Americans show a slight folate deficiency.
B Complex Vitamins
A very slight vitamin B6 deficiency (more common amongst women, especially women taking the birth control pill or hormone replacement therapy) can lead to symptoms of depression. Deficient levels of B1 and B5 can also cause depressive symptoms.
As we age, some of us lose the ability to properly absorb vitamin B 12 which can lead to a host of physical and mental health problems.
A very slight vitamin C deficiency can induce depression. Inflammatory disease, breastfeeding, pregnancy, stress and certain medications can increase the need for Vitamin C.
Zinc, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Manganese and Potassium
Mineral deficiencies can lead to depressive symptoms.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Citizens of nations that consume large quantities of fatty ocean fish have very low levels of depression. Scientists suspect that omega 3 fatty acids present in these fish prevent depression. Initial testing of the use of omega 3 fatty acid supplements for people with depression has yielded promising early results.
Whole Grain Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide satiation and the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. We feel full and happy after eating carbohydrates, but the consumption of highly processed carbohydrates can lead to bouncing blood sugar levels, sugar cravings and emotional moodiness. Eating whole grain carbohydrates provides that same sense of well being over a longer period of time; providing greater emotional stability.
Decrease Your Consumption of:
Alcohol can worsen depressive symptoms and can reduce the effectiveness of anti depressant medications. Alcohol should be avoided by those experiencing depression, or at the very least, consumed in extreme moderation.
Caffeine seems to worsen depressive symptoms for some people. Caffeine may cause insomnia, which can be problematic for depressed individuals and it can worsen blood sugar fluctuations.
Sugar and Processed Carbohydrates
Although depressed people sometimes crave sugar or processed carbohydrates, these easily digested energy sources can cause bouncing blood sugar and fluctuating mood.
A study at University Hospitals of Cleveland linked the consumption of the artificial sweetener aspartame with a worsening of depressive symptoms for those with a history of depression. Aspartame has long been a controversial substance, but it may be wise to avoid it should you struggle with depression.
Eat Well; Take Care of Yourself
People with depression often struggle to eat well, but it's during a period of depression that good nutrition is most important.
- Eat at regular intervals, three or more times daily, to avoid getting too hungry
- Eat fatty fish
- Eat whole grains
- Eat leafy greens
- Eat a balanced diet
- Take a good multivitamin
- Reduce your consumption of alcohol, sugar, diet soda and coffee
Page last updated Aug 05, 2010