As was covered in the previous article, research has shown a significant link between nutrition and depression. Dietary factors such as protein intake and fat consumption appear to be linked with higher or lower chances of depression and depressive symptoms. High or low blood sugar levels are also linked with higher levels of depression and related symptoms. Considering that nutrition plays such a significant role in depression, you might be curious about what specific dietary steps you could take to reduce the severity of depression or even prevent it altogether.
Before continuing on, please note that these suggestions are based on information provided in the previous blog post and though they are based on research, they may not be appropriate or effective for everyone. It is recommended that you consult with a professional if you have questions about managing depression and depressive symptoms.
Here are some things to try if you are interested in using nutrition to fight or prevent depression:
Be mindful of keeping a balanced blood sugar level. Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can both have negative consequences for mood and lead to increased depressive symptoms. Keeping a food diary of what you eat and becoming aware of the glycemic index (GI) scores with common foods may help. Foods with high GI scores result in a spike in your blood sugar, while eating foods with low GI scores are associated with more balanced blood sugar levels. Some common foods with high GI scores include white bread, white rice, desserts, potatoes, and sweetened fruit yogurts. Some common foods with low GI scores include beans, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, and oatmeal.
Track and improve your protein intake and sleep. To track your sleep, try to get as much sleep as possible for 21 days, and rate your sleep quality on a scale from 0 to 5. You will also want to track your protein intake at each meal and snack for those 21 days. After the tracking period has passed, look at how your protein intake compares with your sleep quality and see if you can identify a pattern. When looking at sleep quality scores, consider your total protein intake for the day, in addition to whether more protein in the morning, afternoon, or evening may have played a role. To take it a step further, you may also want to track which foods you got your protein from and include this in your comparison.
Increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA. It’s easy enough to start out by taking a fish oil supplement to get more omega 3 fatty acids, just be sure to check the label. Food sources of this powerful nutrient include fish and seafood such as mackerel, salmon, and oysters, as well as flaxseeds, walnuts and soybeans. Different foods have different kinds of omega 3s so be sure to eat a variety of foods if you are not taking a supplement.
Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Of course, this is good dietary advice in general, but it can be hard to be consistent with eating fruits and veggies regularly. One way of starting to do this is to eat a serving of fruits or vegetables at the beginning of each meal and snack. This will also help you to think about produce more readily and it may motivate you to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks more regularly.
Eat more foods that promote gut health. The majority of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps with stabilizing and improving mood, is produced in the gut. With that being said, it’s important to maintain a healthy microbiome and gut bacteria levels. Some examples of foods that are good for your gut include things like bananas, cauliflower, blueberries, beans, and fermented foods.
It can be intimidating or overwhelming to try to incorporate all of these changes at once, and you don’t have to do them all to start reaping the benefits. Starting with one or two of these changes might seem more manageable. If you are looking for other ways of dealing with depression or you are interested in preventing it, evaluating your dietary habits and making small changes can be a simple and effective place to start.
The information and suggestions in this article were found in a training put together by Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT and Gina Gunderson, MS, RD, LD/N called “Nutrition and Depression: Advanced Clinical Concepts.”
Claira Hart is a therapist who enjoys working with children, families, and couples to help them overcome depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and family conflict. She is passionate about using a strengths-based approach in her work. received her Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University and her bachelor’s degree in Family Studies and Psychology from the University of New Mexico.