DepressionFood is not just something that tastes good. What we eat and ingest really is our fuel for life. Food can also alter brain chemistry and physiology. Every system in the body is inter-related. The following 7 dietary choices can help combat depression.

1.High Nutrient Content

Refined and processed foods contain very little nutrition as compared to whole foods. Vitamins and minerals synthetically added to foods, as in “enriched” products are often in forms that aren’t easily utilized by the body. The synergy involved in the many compounds that make up whole foods adds to their effectiveness.

Trans-continental and industrially farmed and raised food products have much less nutrition than organic and local sources. Genetic engineering, the use of pesticides and herbicides, high-volume planting methods, feeding methods and transport time all degrade the nutrients in food.

2.High Antioxidant Content

High levels of antioxidants in plant foods protect the body from free radicals. The brain is especially vulnerable to damage done by free radicals. Important antioxidants include:

Beta-carotene (found in apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collard greens, peaches, pumpkins, spinach and sweet potatoes)

Vitamin C (found in blueberries, broccoli, citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes)

Vitamin E (found in nuts and seeds)

3.Healthy Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates boost the calming neurotransmitter, serotonin. Simple carbohydrates wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels and can increase depressive symptoms over the long run. Healthy carbohydrate choices include sprouted whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.

4.High Protein Content

Protein-rich foods contain the amino acid tyrosine, which boost levels of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. These alertness chemicals are raised by protein-rich choices like beans and peas, chicken, lean grass-fed beef, raw milk and turkey.

5.Vitamin D

Vitamin D levels are very low in those who suffer from depression and heart disease. Sunlight is our best source of Vitamin D, but supplementation of Vitamin D3 has been found to help those suffering from winter depression. Foods fortified with vitamin D usually have the not-so-effective D2 form, rather than the more bioavailable D3.

Vitamin D levels are linked to melatonin levels. Melatonin is secreted as we sleep normally and increases during seasonal changes in daylight. Melatonin increases appetite, decreases alertness, and affects mood.

The recommended upper limit for vitamin D intake is 2,000 IU, but many researchers now believe that number should be the baseline instead, and that 5,000-10,000 IU is a better bet. You can order testing kits on the Internet to test your Vitamin D levels at home.

6.Selenium

Selenium supplementation has been found to decrease depressive symptoms in a study of the elderly. It’s easy to take too much selenium in supplement form so whole foods are a better choice.

Selenium is found in beans, lean meat, legumes, seafood, nuts and seeds and whole grains.

7.Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids include omega-3’s, omega-6’s and omega-9’s. I talk a lot about the importance of adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, but what most people don’t realize is that it is the proper balance of these fatty acids that matter for both physical and mental health.

Fatty acids are most concentrated in the membranes of brain cells.

The western diet is high in omega-6 and 9 fatty acids, which leads to imbalance of fatty acid levels. The deficit of omega-3 fatty acids is linked to depression. The low incidence of depression among Mediterranean peoples is thought to be partially due to their ingestion of fish—a good source of omega-3’s. Studies of those who eat little fish find that depression increases in such populations.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily, cold-water fish, dark and leafy green vegetables, flaxseed, and nuts.

Depression should be addressed at every level: mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. That’s how I would recommend anyone to address their health in general. The foods we eat really do affect every system in our bodies and can have a tremendous impact on someone suffering from depression.

Dr. Axe's Action Steps

Dr. Axe
  1. Change your shopping habits. Look for locally grown, organic produce and protein sources. Farmer’s markets and organic co-ops are great resources for this.
  2. Replace all refined grains (like white bread, white rice and white pasta) with healthier carbohydrate choices such as vegetables and sprouted grains like Ezekiel bread.
  3. Supplement with 1 Tbsp. of cod liver oil or 1 krill oil capsule daily for the Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D found in them.
  4. Spend at least 15 minutes in direct sunlight each day with at least half of your body exposed. If this is not possible due to the weather, consider having your Vitamin D levels tested and supplementing with Vitamin D3.
  5. Spend at least 15 minutes in direct sunlight each day with at least half of your body exposed. If this is not possible due to the weather, consider having your Vitamin D levels tested and supplementing with Vitamin D3.
  6. Supplement with 1 Tbsp. of cod liver oil or 1 krill oil capsule daily for the Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D found in them.
  7. Change your shopping habits. Look for locally grown, organic produce and protein sources. Farmer’s markets and organic co-ops are great resources for this.
  8. Replace all refined grains (like white bread, white rice and white pasta) with healthier carbohydrate choices such as vegetables and sprouted grains like Ezekiel bread.