Whether you are taking anti-depressants or not, whether your depression is inherited or a circumstantial, making these adaptations to your diet can make a big difference in helping you feel happy again.
Scientist are finding mounting evidence that inflammation is a major contributor to depression. Following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle can go a long way to alleviating your symptoms. You will have to see if following dietary suggestions like the ones below has an affect on your medication needs but they surely should help your symptoms.
It may be difficult to imagine making all these changes, particularly if you are experiencing dramatic symptoms, but see if you can make a commitment to add one of these changes a month for the next year, or pick a few and try them for the next three months, the important thing is to get started make some changes in a way that feels sustainable and see how you feel.
1. Omega 3s—Omega 3s oils are anti-inflammatory. They are very important to maintaining normal brain functioning. Low Omega 3 levels are associated with psychiatric disorders. On a mega-scale, depression across countries can be predicted by Omega 3 (fish) consumption. We also know that depressed brains have fewer Omega 3 and more Omega 6 than non-depressed. Omega 3s facilitate transmission of nervous system signals, control electrical activity in the brain, and activate receptors for neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Older women who eat more low-mercury fish have sharper minds and better memory than women who do not.
- Eat low-mercury fish like tilapia, sole, small tuna, etc. Avoid large fish that live a long time, like halibut and large tuna. When choosing tuna fish, choose “light” tuna (which is actually darker in color), not Albacore, because Albacore has three times the mercury levels of “light.” If eating fish is problematic, take Omega 3 supplements (must be 3rd party tested for toxic metals).
- Drink organic whole milk; it has 70% more omega 3s than nonorganic whole milk. Skim milk does not have Omega 3s and low fat milk has fewer Omega 3s than whole. Avoid non-organic dairy fat as the toxins in the animals’ diets tend to accumulate in their fat cells.
- Swiss cheese from Switzerland is also high in Omega 3s because the cows graze on healthy clover.
2. Choose Only Whole Grain Carbs—We already know that refined carbohydrates are linked to obesity (see my Tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/betterfoody for the story on the link between carbs, insulin, and fat cells). And, we know that being overweight is enough to depress us, right? But to compound this, the consumption of refined carbs, sugar and juice also increase the likelihood of insulin resistance and inflammation, which are linked to depression. Insulin resistance can cause inflammation, which can lead to an imbalance in hormones and neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that regulate mood. Here’s a wrinkle – you need to be cautious with brown rice. Research on rice shows that U.S. grown rice is often contaminated with too much arsenic (far above naturally occurring levels due to arsenic contining compound used in farming in the past). Choose California grown (Arkansas rice has six times higher levels of arsenic) and, yes, choose white. The arsenic is concentrated in the brown hull.
- Avoid sugar, juice, and refined flours but do eat slow release carbs, like whole grain bread or pancakes or beans.
3. Breakfast—Having slow-release carbs and protein at breakfast can help boost mood throughout the day.
- Try whole grain pancakes with blueberries and coconut palm sugar on top (no sugary corn syrup, please) for extra antioxidants. Include a glass of whole milk, cup of whole milk Greek yogurt (which has a far higher protein content than milk) or nuts, seeds, or their butters to boost protein levels.
4. Dark chocolate—Here is what you’ve been waiting to hear, chocolate contains theobromine, which causes sense of happiness similar to marijuana (not that I would know). It also is packed with magnesium, a nutrient known to fight depression.
- Choose dark chocolate to lower the sugar content and amp up the theobrimine. Milk chocolate is very high in sugar and often overly processed.
- If you don’t really like chocolate or only like it when it is high in sugar, take a soaking bath for 30 minutes with 4 pounds of Epsom salts added. Your skin will absorb the magnesium. Incorporating soaking baths can help to calm your nervous system while building your magnesium levels can alleviate your depression. Magnesium supplements are not as effective.
5. Potatoes—Cold, small, waxy potatoes increase the production of serotonin, our feel-good hormone.
- To lower their glycemic levels (lessening the negative effects of their carb content), you should boil them, add salt and organic butter, and then chill. Chilling them is important for bringing down their glycemic load, even if you choose to reheated them later. Eat them as a snack on a regular basis, particularly as a small snack before bed (to help boost serotonin production process overnight). Be sure to eat them on their own because when combined with protein, the serotonin effect may be blocked.
5. Spice it up—A nutrient called curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory. You can add it to your diet in several ways.
- Use the cumin and turmeric (Indian food anyone?) in your cooking. In Morocco, they put out cumin along with salt and pepper at every meal. Few Indian dishes are made without one of these two ingredients. Add cumin to burgers, chili, Mexican food, spicy dips, and French fries. It’s incredibly versatile.
- If you can get fresh turmeric (it looks like a redder, smaller version of ginger), make turmeric lemonade and enjoy a glass each day (just keep the sweetener low).
6. Coffee and tea—Here, there is good news and bad news on the caffeine in these drinks—black tea is good, green tea is better, coffee is neutral.
- If you love coffee, start with one cup in the morning but drink black or green tea daily the rest of the day.
7. Exercise—30-60 minutes a day is fantastic but even 10 minutes of vigorous housework or a personal spontaneous dance party can really help. Get outside if you can to get an added boost from the sun, fresh air and exposure to nature (though you may want to do the spontaneous dance party indoors =).
Special thanks to Dr. Daphne Miller, The Jungle Effect and Nina Planck, Real Food, who did much of the research used for this blog.