Thankfully, normalising the conversation around mental illness seems to be the mantra of the moment. And there’s special focus on how to reduce the risk of depression and manage symptoms. One way could be by changing one’s dietary habits. A 2017 study, published in BMC Medicine, found that the symptoms of people with moderate-to-severe depression improved when they received nutritional counselling sessions and ate a more healthful diet for 12 weeks. Though no diet can completely relieve depression, eating certain foods could help with overall treatment. Here’s how to go about it.
What you should eat
This essential mineral is found in whole grains, Brazil nuts, some seafood and organ meats. The body needs selenium for several of its basic functions, from reproduction to fighting illnesses. But recent research indicates that increasing its intake could boost mood and reduce anxiety. “This could help make depression more manageable,” says Dr Vijay Singh, a general physician.
According to a meta-analysis published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in 2019, vitamin D could help in alleviating symptoms of depression. “Most people get their daily dose of vitamin D by soaking up some sun, but it can also be found in oily fish, fortified daily products, beef and eggs,” says Tanvi Karnik, a dietician.
Omega-3 fatty acidsRecent studies have concluded that omega-3 fatty acids do play a role in helping with depressive disorders. They do so by enhancing brain function and reducing the risk of mood disorders. Additionally, they preserve the myelin sheath that has a significant role to play in protecting nerve cells. “You will find omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts,” says Karnik.
Why are antioxidants so important? They have a vital role to play in removing free radicals from the body. If for any reason these waste products of natural bodily processes cannot be eliminated, it could result in oxidative stress. This causes a host of health issues, including anxiety and depression. Scientific research suggests that consuming vitamins A, C and E that contain antioxidants could help. Consume fresh fruits such as berries, soy and vegetables on a regular basis.
Reduce the symptoms of mood disorders, that include depression, by adding vitamins B-12 and B-9 (folate) to your diet. These vitamins play an essential role in protecting and maintaining the nervous system. Good sources of vitamin B 12 are eggs, meat, oysters, milk and fish, while one will find folate in leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, seafood, eggs and daily products.
The body needs zinc not just to perceive taste but also to boost the day-to-day functioning of the immune system. Studies suggest that people with depression generally have lower zinc levels and that it tends to play a significant role in helping antidepressants work better. “To add more zinc into your diet, have more whole grains, oysters, meat, poultry, beans and nuts. Pumpkin seeds are an especially good source of zinc,” says Karnik.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body. They are also needed for growth and repair. But what makes them super special is that the body uses the protein called tryptophan to create the feel-good hormone known as serotonin. It can reportedly help people with mood disorders, like depression. “Eating food containing serotonin has been proven to be beneficial in countering depression, though how it does so is still unclear. Add tuna, turkey and chickpeas to your diet for maximum benefits,” says Dr Singh.
Healthy gut bacteria could help reduce the symptoms of depression. This was deduced in a meta-analysis published by the NCBI in 2016. “There is evidence that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are particularly good for gut health. Healthy bacteria can easily be found in foods such as yoghurt and kefir,” says Dr Singh.
Found in coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas and energy drinks, caffeine does a lot more than provide an energy boost. Studies show that moderate intake, especially in the form of coffee, could be beneficial to people with depression. Its benefits are mainly due to its stimulant effect and antioxidants properties. But while caffeine may be good for some people, there are pointers on how best to have it. “Ideally, it should be consumed in moderation. Avoid energy drinks completely and try not to have caffeine after midday,” says Karnik.
What to avoid
We don’t need yet another doctor to tell us that fast and junk food are bad for health. They are high in calories and low in nutrients. But now studies also show that people who consume a lot of fast food are more prone to having depression than those who have more fresh produce. This is because processed foods are high in sugars and refined carbs. “Though such foods offer an instant boost when consumed, a rapid low can follow. Having fresh produce is healthier for overall health,” says Dr Singh.
We know that some fats are bad for general health. Certain types of refined and saturated fats reportedly cause inflammation. They also impair brain function and worsen symptoms of depression. “Avoid trans fats that are found in processed foods, fats in red meat, and safflower and corn oil that typically contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids,” says Karnik.
Freelancer writer in mumbai