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Nutrition and depression

Mon 21st Mar 2016

Nutrition and depression
Nutrition and depression

For many years, I have known that eating the right food is very important not only for our physical health but also for our mental health.

Rachel Kelly, a fellow counsellor, whose views I respect, has strong opinions on the subject and she has kindly said I can share some of them with you on my blog.  Rachel says;

Nutrition and depression are intimately linked. After two breakdowns and a 17-year battle with depression, I have been forced to radically change my lifestyle in an effort to beat the Black Dog. At the heart of my recovery is how I re-evaluated the way I eat and think about food.

I never considered myself a bad eater. It wasn’t as though I ate poorly before I became ill. But if food is fuel, depressives need the nutritional pump to deliver premium-grade help.

It is very difficult to overhaul your diet during the worst of a mental illness, so it is best to tackle this as you are getting better.

With that in mind, here are my tips on how to fight depression with food.

Adopt a Mediterranean Diet

Ditching the typical English ‘meat and two veg’ diet was by far the best change to my eating pattern. A Mediterranean-style diet balances healthy sources of protein with complex carbohydrates.

Foods to focus on:

  • Pulses
  • Fruits
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Cereals
  • Olive oil
  • Unsaturated fats known as omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids

Foods to avoid:

  • Sweetened desserts
  • Fried foods
  • Processed meats
  • Refined grains
  • High-fat dairy products
  • Alcohol
  • Animal-based fats

How does this help?

Key points

Firstly the nutritional needs of your brain cells are largely satisfied by the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals that a Mediterranean-style diet provides. Secondly, this diet helps increase the amount of tryptophan in your system, the molecule from which serotonin, the brain’s chemical messenger, is synthesized.

Cutting out alcohol

Alcohol can appear to help with anxiety in the short term by triggering the dopaminergic “reward” pathway, thus raising the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. On a day-to-day basis, we need those chemical messengers to be busy sending messages brain cell to brain cell saying “I feel happy.” But after drinking, these neurotransmitters are broken down and excreted, which may make people feel low afterwards. It is especially dangerous for those like me who feel most anxious in the mornings, since hangovers create a cycle of waking up feeling even more nervous and ill.

Good and bad fats

There is strong evidence linking depression with good and bad fats. Fat is essential to the brain, which is itself 60 per cent fat. We want our brains to be made up of the good, unsaturated fats known as omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, rather than animal-based fats. We also need the correct ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils: most of us eat too little of the omega-3s.

Both Rachel and I know that it is not always easy to make significant or sudden changes to our diets just like that,  but it is possible. I hope that you may be inspired to think about what you are eating, and if you feel it is not healthy enough, then why not have a go at making some changes.

For more about Rachel's views on diet and to find details on her book "Walking on Sunshine - 52 Small Steps to Happiness" take a look at her website: