Most people today do not associate diet and depression with each other. However, because food influences energy levels and mood, the link makes sense.
Of all the problems that people face today, depression proves one of the hardest to pinpoint the cause of. People often suffer in secret, not wanting to burden others or admit that they need professional help. Those same people continue with their normal routines and, many times, unhealthy eating habits. Now, health professionals are actually linking diet and depression and have found success in using diet to treat the disorder.
According to research, diet and depression do go hand in hand. A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.
One could argue that, well, being depressed makes us more likely to eat unhealthy foods. This is true, so we should ask what came first, the diet or the depression? People often get stuck in a cycle of feeling trapped and hopeless about life and their poor eating habits, which causes them to become even more depressed.
Many people crave carbohydrates or soothing comfort foods, such as ice cream and cake, when they’re depressed. One reason for this is that foods high in carbs and sugar increase levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that elevates mood.
In the short term, eating foods high in sugar and fat may make you feel calmer and cared for. But in the long term, a steady diet of comfort foods can lead to weight gain and increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems.
Shopping for and preparing healthy meals can seem daunting when you’re depressed and lacking energy. As a result, you may reach for convenient foods, but that isn’t particularly nutritious, and you may not get enough variety in your diet.
The following strategies can help you eat healthier and sidestep food traps:
Find other ways to comfort your body besides food, such as taking a warm bath, wrapping yourself in a soft blanket, or sipping hot tea.
Choose the best for you. Buy real food. Nutritional deficiencies can make depression worse. So, focus on eating a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. A Mediterranean diet of olive oil, tomatoes, green vegetables and fatty fish could help lower depressive symptoms.
Exclude junk food. Think about it as real junk which is disgusting. Foods containing a lot of fat or sugar, or food that was processed, lead to inflammation of not just the gut but the whole body, known as “systemic inflammation”. In that respect, the impact of a poor diet is like that of smoking, pollution, obesity and lack of exercise.
Simply changing what we eat may be a cheaper alternative to pharmacological interventions, which often come with side-effects.