Depression and Nutrition

Proper eating and nutrition can help improve all aspects of health, including mental health.

In the last article, we cited one of the factors associated with the causation of mental illness as poor nutrition habits.  Remember the old axiom, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?”  There’s probably more truth to it than we often believe.

According to recent research, nutrition “can play a key role” in the length and intensity of major depression.  Unfortunately, the same contributing nutritional factors linked with causing depression can also extend the depressed state because an individual is even more likely to have less regular meals and make poorer diet choices.  It becomes a feedback mechanism where poor nutrition habits create and sustain depression itself.  Some of those habits include poor appetite, nutrient poor foods, skipping meals (including breakfast), and too much sugar in one’s diet.

Nutrition Research And Mental Illness

As early as the 1930s, researchers noticed that nutrient dense diets of primitive peoples– who had little to no occurrences of mental illness– had up to 10 times the amount of vitamins and minerals compared to the contemporary American diet.

Research also indicates that individuals with mental disorders commonly have diets with a deficiency in vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3s are linked with proper brain function and the reduction of symptoms of major depression and can be found in fish and natural oils such as coconut, butter, walnuts, soy, shrimp, and cauliflower.

Diets low in complex carbohydrates are also linked with the onset of depression.  Complex carbs and other friendly sugars, such as sucrose, found in fruits, have a low Glycemic Index (GI) which leads to a more controlled release of insulin versus a rapid spike and crashes in blood sugar levels which accompanies foods with an high GI score.  Having poor control of blood sugar levels throughout the day can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, increased irritability, dizziness, poor sleeping habits, forgetfulness, poor digestion, and blurred vision.

Now let’s spend a little time talking about what to include in diets in order to be proactive about decreasing the effects of mental illness.

  • Eat foods rich in beta carotene such as sweet potato, carrots, dark leafy greens, broccoli, peas, peppers, and cantaloupe.

  • Seek out sources of Vitamin C including papaya, bell peppers, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, blueberries, and tomatoes.

  • Increase the consumption whole grains and reduce enriched white flours.

  • Get more amino acids through protein rich foods such as nuts, eggs, dairy, fish, turkey, chicken, beans, or yogurt.

For more information about diet and depression, check out the following resources:

Depression: The Nutrition Connection

Indian Journal of Psychiatry: Understanding Nutrition, Depression, and Mental Illness