A Healthy Diet for Dealing with DepressionThe Link Between Food & Your Mood
-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
Although the foods you eat cannot treat depression, your diet does have significant effects on your mood, energy levels, mental health, and your ability to cope with stress. If you suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), certain dietary changes can help you get well when combined with a treatment program outlined by your health care provider.
Talk to Your Health Care Provider
Be open and honest when discussing your symptoms and feelings. Because depression can have many underlying causes, your doctor should perform a complete physical and also check the following:
- Thyroid. The thyroid gland controls yours metabolism but indirectly affects your mood. An overactive thyroid can make you feel anxious and irritable, while an under-active thyroid can cause sluggishness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, weight gain, and hair loss.
- Iron levels. Low iron stores can alter your mood, cause fatigue and difficulty concentrating, and decrease mental alertness.
- Use of oral contraceptives. Birth control pills can also shift hormone levels and alter mood swings, depression, and fatigue.
- Sleeping habits. Changes in your sleeping patterns and the quality of your sleep can be closely related to your mood. A lack of sleep can cause many symptoms similar to those of depression.
Dietary Tips for People with Depression
DO structure your meals. Eat at approximately the same times each day and don't skip meals. Enjoy three well-balanced meals and plan snacks between meals. This will help insure that your body is getting the right nutrients throughout the course of the day.
DO eat quality nutrients. Dieting itself is a stress on the body. Individuals who are trying to lose weight and have a history of depression must work to eat foods that are good for the body and the brain. Try incorporating more whole foods, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats by starting with this list of super foods.
DO eat plenty of calories, even if you are trying to lose weight. Extremely low-calorie diets alter your metabolism and increase your risk of malnutrition. Eating less than 1,000 calories per day reduces the amount of tryptophan (an essential amino acid that is needed to produce serotonin) in your body. As a result, serotonin levels drop, which increases symptoms of depression and its chances of recurring. If you have trouble meeting your calorie needs, read Calorie-Boosting Tips. <pagebreak>
DO consume plenty of Omega-3s. While some studies have failed to show a connection between omega-3 fatty acid intake and depression symptoms, others suggest that consuming more of these heart-healthy fats may help with depression-especially when taken along with conventional antidepressants. Epidemiological research also shows that populations who eat more fish have lower rates of depression. Foods rich in omega-3s include cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), soybeans, walnuts, eggs fortified with omega-3s, and ground flaxseed.
DO cut back on caffeine. Caffeine acts as a stimulant, making you feel anxious and interfering with sleep patterns. Consume no more than 200- 300 milligrams of caffeine daily.
DO avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and illicit drugs can interact with antidepressant medications and other over-the-counter medications. For many, depression and substance abuse are already closely connected. If you think you have a problem, seek help. Addictive or abusive behaviors can prevent you from a full recovery.
DO eat plenty of "good" carbohydrates, which increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. High serotonin levels can improve mood and decrease symptoms of depression. At minimum, aim for at least 130 grams of carbohydrates each day. And try to forgo the processed, "white" carbs (white rice, white bread, white flour, etc.) in favor of less processed foods like whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread and whole grain cereals), fruits and veggies.
Losing Weight While Dealing with Depression
If you are trying to balance weight loss with depression treatment, the following tips will help you do it safely without making your condition worse:
- Inform your health care provider before beginning a diet for weight loss.
- With your doctor’s approval, proceed with a slow-paced weight loss plan, aiming to lose no more than 0.5 pounds each week.
- Follow a balanced diet that meets all of your nutritional needs for protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. A registered dietitian in your area can provide an individualized plan to meet your nutritional needs based on your medical history and treatment therapy.
- Carefully evaluate your mood changes while dieting and seek immediate treatment if you notice any changes.