Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. It can be life-threatening when disregarded, but it is possible to improve mental wellness without medical intervention. To safeguard mental health, people often recommend therapy, exercise, or getting adequate sleep. One thing that many people overlook, though, is consuming the right foods.
Can Food Fight Depression?
According to several research studies and clinical trials, food has a powerful impact on mental health. For example, the 2017 SMILES trial was a randomized and controlled study to observe the effects of a Mediterranean diet on people with depression. All participants experienced moderate to severe clinical depression. After 12 weeks, the people who stuck to the diet had significantly lower rates of depression. A total of 32% of all patients achieved full remission from depressive symptoms.
This was a landmark study, and other similar studies have allowed researchers to deepen their understanding about food’s impact on mental health. The belief is that the nutrients in specific foods both directly and indirectly affect mental health in a positive way. It’s very possible to reduce symptoms of depression by following a certain diet or eating more of certain foods. Continue reading to learn about powerful foods that can naturally improve mental health.
This nutritional powerhouse goes great on any salad, sandwich, bowl, taco, or burrito. Avocados contain healthy fats that contribute to a healthy-functioning brain. About three-fourths of the calories in avocados come from fat, most of which is monounsaturated fat. Specifically, the fat comes in the form of oleic acid, but avocados also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Several studies suggest that omega-3s may reduce the risk of mood disorders by enhancing brain function. They also preserve the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells.
All berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries) contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, which exhibit neuroprotective effects. One study, which was published in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, monitored depression patients who received treatment with antioxidants or placebos. The two-year study found that the group who received antioxidant treatment experienced lower depression scores. Antioxidants work to repair DNA and prevent cells from harmful oxidative stress. Another study found that people who ate blueberries saw an improvement in overall mood two hours after consumption. Berries work to lower inflammatory markers and enhance cell survival, facilitating new brain connections and pathways.
Just like avocados, flax seeds and chia seeds are excellent sources of omega-3s. One tablespoon of chia seeds fulfills 61% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of omega-3s. One tablespoon of flax seeds provides 39% of the RDI. The powerful omega-3 punch benefits the brain by improving overall mood. Eating pumpkin seeds is a great way to add more tryptophan to your diet. This essential amino acid works to enhance serotonin levels, which is the feel-good hormone. Most people think that turkey is the best source of tryptophan, but a mere one ounce of pumpkin seeds offers 58% of the RDI of tryptophan.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, chard, and collards are excellent sources of vitamin K, iron, and folate. Folate, which is the natural form of vitamin B9, is essential for fighting depression. The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience published research on many studies regarding folate deficiency among depression patients. Most studies concluded that about one-third of depression patients experienced folate deficiency. Folate works to prevent excess homocysteine, which can restrict the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These important neurotransmitters are necessary for healthy brain function and balanced mood. Finally, the vitamin K in leafy greens helps to lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
The foods mentioned in this article, in addition to staple foods in the Mediterranean diet, work to boost brain function, but also gut health. By improving gut microbiota, you can successfully lower inflammatory markers in the body. It’s clear that inflammation can block necessary neurotransmitters that contribute to balanced mood and mental health. Increasing healthy bacteria in the gut, then, may alleviate symptoms of depression and contribute to a more positive mental outlook.