Depression—not including short-term, cause-related sadness or grief—is a common mood disorder; the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest estimate is that it affects at least 300 million people worldwide at varying levels of severity and duration. And according to WHO and The American Journal of Psychiatry, that number is rising to the point that it’s being considered a worldwide epidemic.
There can be a variety of underlying causes, from chronic stress to thyroid or hormonal disorders. It’s important to discover the root cause of your depression—because depression can coexist with other medical conditions, it could stem from a health issue you’re not yet aware of, or if it’s left untreated, it can actually cause health problems. Diet and exercise can play a crucial role in the treatment and prevention of depression, but just as certain “good mood foods” can help balance gut microbiome and brain chemistry, other foods can promote that downward spiral.
Inflammation is a major culprit in depression, and processed foods as well as added sugars are primary causes of inflammation. Gluten has been shown to cause inflammation in gut cells and has been linked to a number of health problems, including depression. For some people, the casein in dairy can create an inflammatory response, and studies have shown that this can lead to mental disorders including depression. And if your sugar levels are poorly balanced, it can lead to mood swings. Consuming too much processed sugar can trigger reactions like anxiety, worry, and irritability that go hand in hand with depression. In fact, a sugar imbalance leads to brain chemical imbalances and therefore can increase your chances of developing depression, which is why studies have shown a direct connection between sugar consumption and depression.
A deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals including Omega-3s, magnesium, folic acid, potassium, chromium, zinc and vitamins C, B12, B6, D and A can also lead to depression. These are among the “anti-depressant nutrients” that can replenish and maintain the necessary levels your brain and body need to function optimally and fight or prevent depression. While high-quality supplements may be needed, you can also alter your diet to include foods with these all-important nutrients. Here are a few good choices:
Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon. A great source of DHA and EPA, wild-caught Alaskan salmon helps restore Omega-3 fatty acids to brain tissues that rely on it (and it’s also great for your heart—win-win!). Without enough, the brain becomes stressed and mood disorders may follow. However, it’s important to get wild-caught Alaskan salmon and not farm-raised salmon, which is fed an unhealthy diet and raised in polluted, cramped conditions, all of which translates into more chemicals and diminished health value on your plate.
Walnuts. Among the richest sources of plant-based Omega-3s, walnuts can be eaten as a snack, added to salads and baked goods, or used any number of other ways. It’s one of the easiest ways to increase your Omega-3 intake.
Green Tea. This is another win-win—green tea is rich in theanine, the amino acid that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety, which is one of the causes of depression. At the same time, you’re getting lots of antioxidants!
Organic, Pasture-Raised Eggs. Don’t skip the yolk! That’s where the majority of depression-fighting nutrients are, including B vitamins (particularly B12), lecithin, choline, high-quality proteins and more. Eggs also have anxiety-lowering healthy fats.
Tomatoes. This versatile veggie is high in folic acid, which keeps homocysteine levels in check. Too much homocysteine can restrict “feel good” hormones like dopamine and serotonin from being produced.
Avocados. Considered one of the “power foods”, avocados are loaded with nutrients including a range of B vitamins, vitamin C, and proteins. They’re also low in sugar and high in healthy fat, all of which contributes to brain health.
There are plenty of other good choices too, but these will give you a good start. It’s always best to choose organic produce (which by definition are non-GMO) whenever possible to avoid the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides in non-organic fruits and vegetables, since these chemicals contribute to a myriad health problems.