The Role of Diet in Depression

Almost 10 percent of the population suffers from some form of depression. Even though there are medications to treat the symptoms of depression, recent research shows they may only be effective for treating severe depression. This leaves people with mild to moderate depression few treatment options that really work. What about diet? Does it play a role in causing and treating depression?

Depression and diet

According to a study carried out at the University of Melbourne in Australia, a diet rich in whole foods may help to ward off depression. This study found that women who ate a whole food diet that emphasized fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, grass-fed beef and fish were 30 percent less likely to suffer with depression or anxiety. In contrast, they found a diet high in refined and processed foods, sugar, alcohol and fried foods increased the risk of depression by 50 percent. Not good news for convenience food lovers!

This isn’t the first study to show that healthy, unprocessed foods help keep the symptoms of depression at bay. A Spanish study showed that Spanish adults who ate a traditional Mediterranean diet were 30 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts. It’s one of the healthiest diets in the world.

How does eating a diet rich in whole foods improve mental health? Fish and grass-fed beef are good sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Some preliminary research shows that omega-3 fatty acids help to fight depression. In addition, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts are rich sources of antioxidants that are important for healthy brain cells. Fatty fish such as salmon is one of the best sources of brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Choose wild caught salmon, not farm raised. Farm raised salmon has lower levels of omega-3s and higher levels of unhealthy contaminants.

Vitamins depressed people need more of

Deficiencies in several vitamins have been linked with depression. These include folate, found in green, leafy vegetables, and vitamin B12 abundant in fish, meat and dairy products.

Vitamin D is another vitamin that can cause symptoms of fatigue and depression when levels are too low. Up to 75 percent of the population has inadequate levels of this important vitamin. The best source of vitamin D is natural sunlight, and people who live in northern areas of the country may not get enough sunlight to maintain adequate levels of D. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a vitamin D level checked, especially if there’s a history of depression.

The trace mineral selenium is another vitamin linked with mood problems. It’s best to get this mineral naturally since it’s possible to get too much by taking supplements. Good sources of selenium include seafood, lean meat, whole grains and legumes.

The bottom line

It’s increasingly being recognized that diet plays a role in depression. Eating a predominantly processed food diet that lacks essential vitamins, antioxidants and good fats such as omega-3 may make the symptoms of depression worse. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, take a closer look at what you’re eating. It could be contributing to the problem.


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