Is there a link between diet and depression?

Is there a link between diet and depression?

As I was reading this article from the Mayo clinic this morning, it got me thinking.. is this another chicken or egg debate? I already told you, for the past few months we have been eating out daily, sometimes more than once a day… its terrible and my kids have noticed and my eldest has not so kindly pointed it out…. If our diet can make us more susceptible to depression, then it would lead one to believe that what we eat while we are depressed makes us even more depressed. Another double edged viscous cycle of depression. If this is true, we can also postulate that by changing what we eat, we might be able to make our depression better, right?

So, this article discusses the link between food and the brain and discusses different nutritional strategies to help get out of the cycle. If we follow their Action Plan for getting out depression, our diet will start to look a little different. Being the realist that I am, I recognize that those of us with depression have to be willing to go grocery shopping and prepare food. If we are deep in the cycle, this may be more difficult that it sounds and “the others” definately will not understand just how difficult this might be. So let’s take some baby steps and break it down into something we might be able manage…. something we can realistically follow to see if it really does help.

The first thing we want to do is boost our Omega 3 levels. This means fish and flax seeds. Let’s realistically say that we are NOT going to cook fish twice a week if we are deep in the throws of depression. So, we can eat flax seeds and supplement with fish oil. Of course the food sources are always better for us than the supplements but I am thinking any Omega 3 is better than a whopper or big mac, right? So, let’s shoot for the recommended 1000 mg/day. Most fish oil capsules I have seen on the shelf already have the recommended doses. Most experts recommend a 3:2 ratio of EPA to DHA, but I have also read some that recommend higher levels of EPA, as in a 7:1 ratio, I have even seen a 10:1 ratio. I am not going to worry about the ratio right now, except to say, lets go find a 1000mg supplement with as much EPA as possible and see if this helps our mood.

Next, we want to work on our homocysteine and Vitamin B needs. Too much homocysteine is bad and is an indicator that our B2,B6,B12 and folic acid intake are low. So, we want a supplement that provides at least 250 mcg of B12, 400 mcg of folic acid and 20 mg of B6. Of course, food rich in B vitamins are always better than supplements, so we will need to look at our diet again.. But dont worry, I am with you, I am still too depressed to cook, so we are going to look for some easy sources. Some good sources are whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegies, nuts, fish, eggs and dairy produce… so consider this. What if we eat a bowl of whole grain cereal, fortified with Vitamin B and some milk. If we add only this to our diet, we are surely getting more B vitamins than we were living on pizza an burgers. If we put fortified soy milk in the cereal instead of regular milk, we will get 50% of the daily recommended value of B12. Next, lets add a bit of yogurt to our lunch menu (still not cooking) and we have added a little more. Also, fruits and vegetables are easy. Just buy what you like and snack on fruits when you want something sweet and some veggies when you are craving something crunchy. I know, not as much fun as eating chocolate and chips but heck, I dont have to cook, I dont even have to go through the drive thru. If I have one good day, long enough to get myself to the grocery store, I can stock my fridge with fruits and veggies, yogurt and soy milk. I can get some whole grain, fortified cereal (with a good amount of fiber) and some tuna for the pantry. I can grab a few supplements and wala, I should be well on my way out of this depression in a few days… if diet truly does impact it. I am willing to try it! My laziness keeps me from eating more than once a day right now, so if I stock my kitchen with some no work, healthy options, I might actually be able to do this (all I have to do is drag myself down the stairs). Since I am 50 pounds overweight already, the change in my diet could give me more benefits.

Vitamin D is up next and incidentally, if we were cooking, we would be able to add salmon to our diet to get the benefits of both vitamin D and omega 3s, the same goes for tuna and some other fish. But, we are trying to make this easy.. so besides supplements, we should look for vitamin D in our fortified whole grain cereal and milk. Ricotta cheese is also a good source of vitamin D, although I dont know many people that will eat ricotta cheese by itself. However, if we buy a nice head of dark leafy green lettuce like romaine and use flax seed oil and vinegar as our dressing, we could add some ricotta and maybe some tuna and even some chopped shitake mushrooms to get our daily dose of vitamin D, still without cooking and little prep time. (If we are really feeling bad, we can always buy the bagged salad as long as we wash it well). This looks like it will be easy!!! Finally, 2,000iu of Vitamin D for12 weeks. Also, if we can get out and walk the dog around the block for a little sunshine and exercise we are going to add some vitamin D and get the benefits of exercise.

Next up: Chromium, you dont hear much about this little power house, but this stuff can not only help us eliminate that cysteine we talked about earlier, it can help our blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin resistance and blood sugar levels and triglycerides. WOW! All that processed food we have been eating is depleting our body of this vital nutrient. Once again, that fortified whole grain cereal, and adding some fresh tomatoes to our lunch time salad can give us a little boost. But, Ultimately, we want to add 200 to 600 mcg of supplement to our diet.

Now, let’s look at magnesium consumption.. we can add this to our diet with Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, peanuts. (Green leafy vegetables and whole grains are also high in magnesium.) Again, these are quick and easy grab and go snack and we can add some to our daily salad for a little crunch!

Now, we should consider adding some amino acids. But, we still are not ready to cook, so lets get ourselves some green tee. We should be cutting out all the sugar anyway, so maybe we can brew some nice cold green tea to drink or have a nice warm mug of green tea with our cereal in the morning. The green tea is full of the amino acid L-theanine is an amino acid found mainly in the tea leaves; it’s been shown by EEG tests to stimulate alpha brain waves. This can improve focus while also having a calming effect on the body.

Another suggestion is getting some raw cacao in our diet for a selenium boost. Brazil nuts are a great source. Also there are some vitamins that contain cacao. Cacao can be good for mood because it releases endorphins in the brain, but watch out for milk chocolate and candy varieties high in sugar.

Some articles suggest adding cabbage to the diet for its Vitamin C and folate content. Cabbage protects against stress, infection and heart disease, as well as many types of cancers, according to the American Association for Cancer Research. There are numerous ways to get cabbage into your diet but, we are still trying not to cook, so toss it in your salad. Wow, lunch really is going to be our key meal of the day! Cabbage is also a good source of blood-sugar-stabilizing fiber.

Now, whole grains are a great source of folic acid, pantothenic acid and Vitamins B6 and B1. Contain folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamins B6 and B1. Oats help lower cholesterol, are soothing to the digestive tract and help avoid the blood sugar crash-and-burn that can lead to crabbiness and mood swings. Other whole grains such as kamut, spelt and quinoa are also excellent choices for delivering brain-boosting nutrients and avoiding the pitfalls of refined grains such as white flour. Again, we are not cooking, so lets look for that whole grain cereal that contains whole grain oats to add these essential nutrients that are going to help us stabilize our mood.

We can also add some wheat germ to our cereal in the morning or our lunch time salad. Just two tablespoons will add 4g of protein, 2 g of fiber and is low in sugar and only adds 60 calories to our diet.  This is better than some nutrient powders. You can mix it into all kinds of recipes, like oatmeal, fruit or even simple salads. Some people even use it as an ice cream topping!

I read another article in Forbes Magazine that said yeast could lead to issues with depression. Not sure about you, but I suffer from chronic yeast infections and digestive issues. So, we are going to add some yogurt to the day, maybe a mid day snack. We already talked about the benefits of yogurt, but if we can keep the bad bacteria at bay and add some lactobacillus to our diet also, we are getting even more bang for our buck.
Now, we mentioned ricotta cheese for its rich vitamin D content, but, adding some cottage cheese to our diet is going to give us access to tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is linked to the mood-boosing neuro chemical Serotonin, which you may or not know play a major role in depression and obesity… (are you starting to see a pattern here between our depression and diet?) Low levels make it difficult for us deal with stress, which by the way leads to production of cortisol which leads to belly fat. WOW, some cottage cheese and fruit with our salad perhaps? Still no cooking required.
Bananas can give us both the magnesium we need and the B6 and potassium. This electrolyte helps keep your digestive system working properly, helps your heart and your muscles. A study in the British journal of nutrition found that high-potassium diets can help relieve depression symptoms and muscle tension.Why it helps: Like collards, bananas give you the benefits of being backed with magnesium and B6, but also have potassium. Potassium helps your  heart, kidneys, muscles and gastrointestinal track work properly. Furthermore, a deficiency in potassium can cause fatigue, irritability and hypertension. (Any of this sound familiar?) Sadly, I am not a fan of bananas (It is a texture thing). Luckily, bananas ring in at number 10, for natural sources of potassium so.. I could add some white beans to that salad for lunch. Eat some dried apricots (watch out for the sugar content). Also leafy greens are the number two natural source of potassium, so that lunch time salad should already be packing a depression kicking punch, if we add some white beans, mushrooms, dried apricots… we are really gonna kick some depression ass. (assuming of course we CAN use food to boost our mood). Oh yeah, if we eat avocados, we can get potassium AND those essential fatty acids. But, yogurt is a good source of potassium too. We could also make a fruit smoothie with banana and yogurt for a power packed snack.
Are you keeping up? So far, we are eating a whole grain cereal breakfast with fortified soy milk and a glass of green tea. For lunch we are going to eat a leafy green salad with cabbage, nuts, mushrooms, tomatoes, a tablespoon of flax seeds or wheat germ, maybe some tuna and white beans. We are going to eat some yogurt for a mid morning snack and maybe some cottage cheese with our salad or as an afternoon snack.
Popcorn is a carb-rich food with a low glycemic index, which can lead to holding on to serotonin levels, which in turn help level out your mood. Popcorn can be considered a complex carb. HOWEVER, as soon as you add sugar, salt, or oil, any benefit you can claim from popcorn is completely cancelled out. Air-popped popcorn with a sprinkling of spices and little to no salt is the best way to have popcorn as a snack.
Now, we havent made dinner yet, but we are trying to stick to some easy, no-cook foods to change our diet and boost our mood. We need to start slow with these changes because if we make too many changes at once, we will never be successful. Maybe a turkey sandwich on some whole grain bread with some leafy green veggies. Keep it simple. Roll up some turkey breast in cabbage rolls.
This seams like it will be easy to do, we just gotta get up today, take a shower, get dressed, shoes included. We are going to make the bed, and then we are going to go to the grocery store and stock up on easy, no muss no fuss natural foods that are going to boost our mood.
So, there it is, what can it hurt to try it for a week and see if it makes a difference? Its cheaper than eating out and a whole lot healthier. If it works, that will motivate me to try it some more, maybe even turn on the stove, or… at least the microwave… What about you? Are you in? We can do this together!!!!

I will try to put together a printable grocery list for us to use and come back later…

Do you have any go to foods that you know enhance your mood? Do you have any experience changing your mood with food? tell us about it!

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