Avoid the Blues with the Right Type of Foods
But first, a word of caution. If you have experienced symptoms of depression over a long period of time, it is best to speak to your doctor before attempting to self-diagnose and treat. Depression is a serious illness—following the advice of trained professionals, who may recommend utilizing a variety of treatment methods, is the safest way to ensure a successful outcome.
Foods that bring on the blues
To understand foods that can bring us down, you need to understand a little about brain chemistry. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz later!) Serotonin is a hormonal neurotransmitter within your body that regulates things like mood, sleep, appetite, and memory. When your serotonin levels decrease, your mood suffers and you may begin feeling tired and depressed. Anti-depressant medications work by controlling the amount of serotonin available to your brain so that feelings of sadness and fatigue are minimized. However, the foods you eat also have an impact on serotonin levels, so in turn, foods that cause serotonin levels to drop should be eaten in moderation in order to improve your mood.
Examples of foods to limit or avoid include:
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), especially for people with underlying allergies. If you’ve suffered from symptoms of depression along with the gastrointestinal distress of cramps and diarrhea, consult a physician to determine if you have a food intolerance. Studies have shown that alleviating digestive issues caused by allergies often clears up emotional distress as well.
- Too much or too little dietary fat. An Italian study showed that most people who attempted suicide had extremely low cholesterol levels.
- Potatoes, corn, peas, soybeans, oats, wheat or rye bread, and rice all contain beneficial fiber. However, these foods’ fiber content also inhibits cholesterol absorption, and cholesterol is needed to regulate sleep and moods.
- Simple carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta, which offer a brief burst of energy that gives way to fatigue.
- Highly processed foods (canned or packaged foods and fast-foods) that contain preservatives, dyes, and other additives rather than the essential nutrients your body needs.
- Fried foods high in saturated fat, which may inhibit the circulation of blood to the brain and thereby decrease serotonin production.
In addition to the foods mentioned above, limit your intake of alcohol, which acts as a depressant—and avoid alcohol altogether if you have a history of depression. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, limit consumption of stimulants like caffeinated coffee and energy drinks. Such stimulants offer a temporary boost followed by an inevitable crash, not to mention an increased risk of insomnia. For example, consuming four or five cups of caffeinated coffee a day (approximately 700mg of caffeine) can disrupt normal sleep patterns, which in turn fuels depression. A good night’s sleep is crucial to keeping the cloud of depression from hanging over your head.
It should be noted as well that trendy “high-protein/low-carb” diets can increase your risk of experiencing depression by robbing your body of essential carbohydrates which aid in the production of serotonin. Instead, opt for a balanced diet that includes healthy carbohydrates like brown rice, protein such as chicken, green vegetables, and plenty of water. Cholesterol and “good fats” from eggs and fish, along with natural sugars, are essential to maintain proper brain and heart function—and remember that a healthy body is a happy body!
Foods that battle the blues
To lower your risk of depression, choose natural, healthy foods that help you maintain a consistent energy level throughout the day. Nutritious foods without chemical additives and artificial sweeteners, but high in essential nutrients, keep you feeling energized so you can maintain an active lifestyle—critical for fighting off the blues.
Specific foods that can keep your body and mind in excellent shape are:
- Fresh, dark green vegetables like spinach, which contains vitamin B12 and folic acid, both of which increase serotonin levels.
- Foods high in vitamin B6, which supports immunity and serotonin development. You can find vitamin B6 in whole grains, legumes, bananas, nuts, potatoes, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
- Foods containing vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, kale, broccoli, turnips, strawberries, and kiwis. Vitamin C bolsters your immunity and assists in serotonin production.
- Foods rich in vitamin E, such as some canola oils, or a vitamin E supplement if necessary.
- Foods containing folic acid, such as eggs, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, and many fruits and vegetables.
- Small amounts of whole wheat bread (versus white bread), as well as brown rice and sunflower seeds, all of which contain vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 supports healthy energy levels and helps your body metabolize carbohydrates more efficiently.
- Moderate amounts of meat, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy products, which contain essential amino acids.
- Chicken and turkey, which contain tryptophan, a building block for serotonin.
- Food rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seed oil, wild salmon, tuna, cod, and sardines.
- Green tea, for its powerful antioxidant and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol lowering properties. In addition, green tea contains less caffeine than coffee, so it is less likely to interrupt your sleep cycles.
- Water—at least eight eight-ounce glasses a day. Sugary soft drinks and alcoholic beverages should be consumed in strict moderation or avoided altogether.
When choosing mood-boosting foods like those listed above, always select the freshest, least processed products you can find. If possible, buy organic meat, fish, vegetables, and dairy products to ensure that your exposure to pesticides and harmful chemicals is as low as possible and that beneficial nutrients were not stripped away by over-processing.
It is also important to consider where and how you eat. Do you gobble down meals while speeding to your next appointment? Do you graze mindlessly while watching TV or checking your Facebook page? Mealtimes should be dedicated to eating and enjoying the food you’ve prepared. Try to be mindful of the tastes, textures, and appearance of the food and, if possible, share your mealtime with friends or family in a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere. A strong social support system is a critical factor in staving off depression— what better way to forge those bonds than over a good meal? Eat slowly, taking the time to savor each bite, and you’ll not only have a more pleasant dining experience, you’ll find your appetite and cravings much easier to control.
Bottom line: listen to your body
Depression is a serious illness that ought to be treated under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. The tips provided here are meant to inform you of minor lifestyle changes you can make that may help you feel better about yourself by promoting a healthy body and mind. Be aware of how certain foods make you feel—if you feel tired and sluggish after a morning doughnut, maybe it’s time to switch to a healthier option. Listen to your body and most importantly, seek help when you notice behaviors in yourself that you know just aren’t right. Be kind to yourself, and your body will reward you with a lifetime of good physical, emotional, and spiritual health. -F.C.
This Article was in the latest Edition of the Ali Magazine http://www.thealimagazine.com/
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