- Publish Date
- Tuesday, 30 May 2017, 12:34PM
There's so much emphasis on mental health in the media, no more than in recent weeks.
The one in four of us affected by depression (especially women) and the soaring rise in antidepressant prescriptions, according to the Daily Mail.
Depression is estimated to affect 350 million people worldwide, with its symptoms associated with decreased productivity as well as decreased quality of life and wellbeing.
But what we rarely hear about is how crucial diet is to mood and how effective it can be to creating lasting, fundamental changes to how people feel and even in helping alleviate depression. I see it every day in my practice.
Alongside medical intervention and professional treatment and guidance, a varied and healthy diet will go a long way to help recovery, control mood and restore balance. Here's how you can eat to better your mental health.
1. Get enough protein
Chicken, tofu, cheese
In the first instance, the feel-good neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine are both made up of amino acids, in other words, proteins.
Whilst the body can make some amino acids, there are a certain group of amino acids that are referred to as 'essential', which means they must be consumed and come from the food we eat.
If the diet is lacking in these specific amino acids, the production of these neurotransmitters will be compromised.
Ensure adequate protein intake from meat, chicken, fish, quinoa, eggs, tofu, milk, cheese, beans and pulses as such proteins are essential to the production of amino acids.
2. B vitamins are your friend
Chickpeas, eggs, pecan nuts
The chemical processes that take place in the body often require co-factors and B vitamins play a key role in the conversion of these amino acids into neurotransmitters.
If you are not eating enough B vitamins (or amino acids) you will not produce adequate levels of serotonin and dopamine.
B vitamins are best taken as a complex and foods that are rich in B vitamins tend to provide a good spectrum, especially those in whole grains, spinach, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, salmon, tofu, eggs and pecan nuts.
3. Healthy fats are essential
Salmon, avocado, walnuts
The nerve cells in the body are made up of fat and a certain amount of good, 'essential' fats must come from the diet. Foods rich in good fats include oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel as well as avocado and walnuts.
4. Treat your gut well
Miso soup, sauerkraut, pickles
Digestive health is just as crucial to mood and if your gut is not in optimal health, digestion and absorption of nutrients will not be as efficient.
Around 95 per cent of serotonin is produced in the gut and your gut flora plays an essential role in ensuring a healthy digestive tract.
Ensure plenty of fibre to promote the 'good' bacteria, so that they can thrive and proliferate in your gut and reduce the sugars, which will feed the unhealthy 'bad' bacteria and increase inflammation.
Fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and pickles will provide the good bacteria and will help to contribute to a healthy digestive system but you may like to consider a good quality probiotic to 're-innoculate' your gut at the outset, whilst you make changes to your diet.
5. Stay away from the sweet stuff
Drop: honey, sugar, soda
Pick up: sweet potato, carrot, butternut squash
As well as improving digestive health, avoiding refined sugars will also contribute to a better mood. These sugars are quickly absorbed into the blood, providing a surge of energy.
However, this will soon be followed by an energy dip, as insulin is quickly released to remove the sugars from your blood.
This dip will leave you feeling tired, lethargic and jittery and can further contribute to anxiety and feeling low.
Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potato and starchy vegetables like sweet potato, carrots, parsnips and butternut squash and ideally eat them with good quality protein such as fish, chicken, eggs or quinoa, to release the sugars more slowly into the bloodstream.
6. Keep your hormones in check
Aubergine, chickpeas, beans
An imbalance of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone can have an influence on the pathways that antidepressant medications also act upon, affecting the way in which the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and GABA work on the brain. Balancing hormone levels with the diet should be considered in the first instance before beginning antidepressant medication.
Eating phytoestrogen foods (meaning literally, plant-based oestrogen foods) that mimic the body's natural oestrogen will help to balance oestrogen levels in perimenopause (the decade before menopause) and menopause. Phytoestrogens include all vegetables as well as beans and pulses. Try this Aubergine and Chickpea Moussaka to ensure you get plenty of phytoestrogens.
7. Get weight to a healthy level
Studies indicate that people with depression show evidence of inflammation but the cause is unclear. However, a recent 2015 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research established that obesity may be a contributing factor to the inflammatory profile of depressed patients. Reducing weight to a healthy level is important to help reduce the risk of developing depression as well as many other negative health outcomes.
So, try making these changes, opting for a healthier diet, choosing plenty of vegetables, good quality protein and good fats and see how you feel.
This article was first published on Daily Mail and is republished here with permission.