What you eat has a massive effect on your brain, particularly given that our intestines contain approximately 500 million neurons and your gut produces about 90% of the body’s serotonin (the neurotransmitter which is strongly linked to wellbeing and happiness).
The gut is in constant communication with the brain, sending it information that most definitely affects your mood. So, looking after your gut is one way of looking after your mental health.
Eating well is also another way of losing weight, which in turn can help with self esteem and self confidence.
There are also LOADS of health benefits to having a healthy diet - like reducing your risk of type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, keeping your teeth and bones strong and helping you to maintain a steady, healthy weight.
Try to avoid comfort foods. I know, I know - you’re feeling miserable and the only thing you want to eat is cake, ice cream, chocolate with a side order of more cake. My local supermarket must have made a fortune from all the comfort food I bought during my years of feeling depressed. But these ‘treats’ that I’d buy to make myself feel better only gave me the briefest of lifts before making me feel ashamed of myself for being so greedy.
Eat real food. Processed food, fast food and commercial baked goods are linked to depression. The benefits of eating unprocessed food are twofold: first, it massively increases your chances of getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your brain needs to function. Second, it eliminates additives known to contribute to depression (like white sugar, MSG and artificial sweeteners) from your diet.
Minimize gluten and sugar. Recent research suggests that a major contributing factor to depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder is inflammation, and the most prominent stimulators of inflammation in our diet are gluten and sugar.
Studies have shown that a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fat (good fats such as cheese, nuts, avocados, fish, eggs, dark chocolate etc) can improve symptoms of depression.
Boost your vitamin B. Research suggests that deficiencies in B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger depression. To get more, take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in stabilising your mood. The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna, and some cold-water fish oil supplements.
Think about limiting your caffeine intake. Recent research has suggested that drinking caffeine can worsen depression in people with mood disorders and that high levels of caffeine consumption can increase levels of anxiety and the risk of panic attacks. This comes as absolutely no surprise to me as one cup of coffee pretty much turns me into a jittery mess.
Don’t let hanger take over! Going too long between meals can make you feel irritable and tired, so aim to eat something at least every three to four hours. Skipping meals can also weaken your resolve to eat well.
Eating well can take time and cost money. But there are LOADS of websites out there with recipes for cheap, healthy and delicious food. Some of my favourites include The Body Coach, BBC Good Food and Jamie Oliver. You could also try a meal planning app like Mealime or Yummly or Vegan Recipes - Meal planner which have personalised meal plans, shopping lists and recipes.
Have a healthy snack. If you’re craving something sweet - try some fruit, nuts or a juice. Alternatively try a healthy snack bar - e.g. Nakd Bars, Eat Natural Bars, the thing is to find a healthy alternative to destroying a family pack of Mars bars.
Consider taking supplements. There’s been lots of research into which vitamins / supplements could alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. As far as I can tell, there isn’t yet any definitive agreement on which ones are proven to help improve your mood so do your own research by reading articles like this and this.
Get rid of bad things in your cupboard. Don’t kid yourself that you’ll be strong enough to resist temptation when you’ve had a tough day. If the 400g bar of Dairy Milk isn’t winking at you temptingly from the cupboard then you’re much less likely to succumb.
Mediterranean diet may help prevent depression, The BBC
William Davis, Wheat Belly
David Perlmutter, Grain Brain
Diet and Depression, Harvard Health Blog
The diet that could reduce the risk of depression, Medical News Today
Refined carbs and sugar: The diet saboteurs, The Help Guide
Choosing healthy fats, The Help Guide