According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, more than 16 million adults in the United States suffer from a major depressive disorder. An additional 3.3 million adults suffer from a persistent depressive disorder. Combined, that’s nearly 20 million Americans experiencing some level of depression, and many aren’t even seeking treatment.
From increased fatigue to uncontrollable emotions, depression doesn’t just take a serious toll on one’s mental health. It also affects physical health.
And like most physical conditions, you can help manage the problem through proper nutrition and a focus on healthy eating habits.
If you or someone you know is suffering from this disorder, here are some nutritional habits you can adopt to manage depression.
Eat More Oily and Fatty Fish
Oily and fatty fishes are high in Omega 3s, which improve mood and brain function. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and whole tuna are all great sources of this type of healthy fat.
Oily fishes also contain Vitamin D, which studies show can improve the symptoms of depression. A 2013 analysis indicated that patients with depression also had low levels of Vitamin D.
The body absorbs Vitamin D naturally through sunlight exposure. People with limited exposure to sunlight can increase their Vitamin D by eating oily, fatty fish or adding a supplement to their routine.
Take in More Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals in the body. The brain consumes 18.4% of the oxygen our bodies need to function, and free radicals like to attack our brains.
By adding more Vitamin C to your diet, you can fight off those free radicals, leading to better brain health and better brain function.
Contrary to what many people think, oranges and orange juice aren’t the only foods high in Vitamin C. You can also find high concentrations of Vitamin C in peppers, blueberries, kiwi, broccoli, and grapefruit.
To help manage depression through nutrition:
- Slice peppers into a lunchtime salad
- Choose broccoli as your dinner side dish
- Add more berries, grapefruits, and kiwi into your breakfast fruit smoothie
- Adding a whole fruit option like Balance of Nature can also help eliminate depression.
Eat Healthy Proteins
Healthy proteins, such as lean beef, poultry, tuna, and turkey, boost serotonin levels in the brain. And if you’re suffering from a depressive disorder, you need more serotonin.
Serotonin makes you happy. That’s because it makes it easier for the brain cells to communicate with other nervous system cells. Without the proper levels of serotonin in the body, you can suffer from more than depression. You can also suffer from poor sleeping habits and bad digestive health.
Chicken and turkey don’t just boost serotonin production. They also help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve sleep habits, leading to improved mood.
Poultry, fish, meat, and even eggs also contain Vitamin B-12, which also helps the nervous system function, including the brain.
Snack on Nuts
People suffering from depression can manage their disorder simply by eating more nuts. And different types of nuts provide various kinds of benefits.
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium. Most adults need about 55 micrograms of selenium per day. Normal levels of selenium reduce anxiety. Low amounts of selenium intake link to poor mood, increased anxiety, and depression.
Cashews, hazelnuts, and walnuts are excellent sources of Omega 3s. As we discussed above, Omega 3s improve mood and boost brain function.
Nuts also contain folic acid, which helps both the nervous system and brain function at better levels. The better your brain health, the less likely you are to suffer from a depressive disorder.
Choose Complex Carbs Over Simple Carbs
Forget what those zero-carb diet fanatics have to say … not all carbs are bad for you.
In fact, complex carbs, such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables, are good for the body in various ways.
Complex carbs boost serotonin, the happiness hormone. Whole grains offer an added benefit — they also contain zinc, which improves the immune system and can make the body more healthy overall.
When choosing which carbs to eat and which to avoid, steer clear of simple carbs. These are in foods that contain refined sugars, such as candy, cookies, and soda.
Incorporate More Seeds into Your Diet
We can’t stress enough how vital Omega 3s are to your overall health and brain function. Flaxseed and chia seeds contain those oh-so-important Omega 3s, but they offer an added benefit as well.
Chia seeds and flaxseed actually help the body to increase the absorption of the nutrients found in vegetables.
When eaten with vegetables, you’ll get a double bang for your buck:
Healthy Omega 3 fats and the ability to get the most nutrients out of your veggies.
To incorporate more seeds into your diet, add them to a healthy salad or sprinkle some on a vegetable side dish to accompany a lean protein for dinner.
What NOT to Eat When Suffering From Depression
When managing depression, knowing what NOT to eat is just as important as knowing what TO eat.
If you’re suffering from a depressive disorder, avoid these at all costs:
Alcohol is a depressant that can make insomnia, irritability, and feelings of hopelessness even worse.
Refined sugars can cause an imbalance in insulin and blood sugar levels, which can negatively affect your mood.
Trans fats and saturated fats have a negative effect on mood and brain function, which can increase levels of depression.
These contain refined sugars and saturated fats, both of which hinder brain function.
Lean proteins, fatty fish, vegetables, seeds, and nuts should be the core of your diet if you’re suffering from depression. Chips, cookies, candy, and soda may give you a quick “high” and make you feel better in the moment, but in the long run, they do more harm than good.
People suffering from depression can manage and improve their condition simply by changing what they eat. A few minor additions or tweaks to how you eat can be the difference between easing your depression and making it worse.
For more information on how to manage your symptoms of depression, consult with your physician.
Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Traverse Commons to help them with their online marketing.