Top 4 Foods to Eat and Top 4 Foods to Help Avoid Depression

depression12We have all suffered from depression at one point or another in our lives, some more briefly or enduringly than others but nonetheless, it has been common. Depression is a series of illnesses characterized by depressive emotions, such as sadness, loneliness and purposelessness that take away from your ability to function normally. These include major depression–severe depression that lasts more than two weeks, dysthmia–mild or moderate depression that lasts at least two years and post-partum depression–depression triggered by having a child. A healthy diet that limits certain types of foods may help alleviate your depression symptoms. As always, trained professionals are the best to seek out when suffering from regular or elongated bouts of depressive behavior but these tips on what to eat and what to avoid will hopefully help alleviate some of the suffering.

So, our top four foods to avoid to reduce depression are:

 

1) Added sugars
Sugars, such as cane sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup and dextrose are foods that add sweetness and calories but a relatively insubstantial amount of nutrients to foods. Some research has suggested that  excessive sugar intake can disrupt your mood, increase unhealthy weight gain and exacerbate depression. While modest amounts of sugar are acceptable, it is very important to reduce your intake of sugary soft drinks, coffee beverages, candy and desserts. Eating sugary foods, such as cheap chocolate, to cope with or avoid emotions can hugely increase your risk of depressive emotions and unhealthy behavior, such as binge eating and fad dieting.
 
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2) Enriched bread, pasta and other low quality carbs
Simply put, these foods are bereft of value. They will give little and take away much from you. They contain fewer vitamins, minerals and fiber than more traditional complex carbohydrate sources, such as whole grains. They are also on the high glycemic index, meaning they have a potentially dramatic impact on your blood sugar levels. When you do consume an enriched carbohydrate source, keep your portion modest and balance the food with protein to prevent blood sugar imbalances. The problem with having blood sugar imbalances is that this can cause fluctuating energy levels, which is another symptom commonly connected with depressive behavior. Not having the energy to motivate yourself into different behavior can lead to deeply negative effects in the long and short term.

3) Caffeine

Caffeine is a bitter-tasting drug often used to add stimulant properties to drinks and foods. Even though it is socially acceptable as a drug, even modest amounts of caffeine can disturb your moods. If you are overtly sensitive to caffeine, you may find that consuming coffee or other things containing caffeine may disrupt your sleep pattern. Such sleep issues can often tend to trigger or exacerbate depression symptoms. Caffeine withdrawal can also contribute to depression with irritability and increased emotional imbalance. If your morning coffee is delayed and you experience grogginess, headaches or irritability you may be dependent on caffeine. Stopping caffeine use abruptly causes the most severe withdrawal symptoms; ideally, gradually decrease your caffeine intake for less withdrawal symptoms.
 
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4) Milk Chocolate

Chocolate (or cacao) is commonly identified as being great for fighting depression and it is! However, that is 70%+ sources of it. Anything less than this is likely to be very high sugar or poor quality fat to make up for the quantities used. This cheaper, less chocolate filled stuff is the killer. The high sugar content completely nullifies any of the positive antioxidant effects of the cacao and is in fact more likely to give you depressive behavior. From headaches, gaining weight, irritability, lack of energy and a heap of other physical and mental symptoms, poor quality chocolate is the worst thing you can have to exacerbate depression. Sadly, it is usually what people reach for first during down times. There is no nice way to say it, don’t do it if you suffer from these issues as it will exaggerate them even more!

We now know the four nasty ones that we should try to avoid. There are others but these tend to be the most common ones that afflict people with depressive symptoms or behavior. So, what can we eat that will combat this depressive behaviour? Well, here is a short list of a few super powerful and positive foods to help you on your way.

1) Salmon

For you fish lovers out there, it is one of the tastiest and most beneficial fish out there to eat. It contains Omega-3 fatty acids that help our brain cells communicate and enhance the concentration of dopamine and serotonin. These are the two neurotransmitters that help regulate mood, amongst other important things. Foods such as salmon and sardines have high concentrations of omega-3s, as are walnuts and ground flaxseed if you are in need of a vegan or vegetarian option. In certain studies, researchers have found that participants who had lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to report being in a depressive state or to have depressive symptoms.image8

2) Saffron

Saffron, that particularly expensive red spice that gives Persian cooking that uniquely intense golden sheen, may not be a spice you use often in your food. However, using it could raise your spirits substantially. It has been shown that saffron has long been used in traditional Persian medicine as a mood enhancer, usually steeped into a medicinal tea or used to prepare rice. It has been discovered that saffron has antidepressant effects comparable to the antidepressants fluoxetine and imipramine, likely because it makes the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin more available to the brain.  So, if you are looking for a pick me up, try adding saffron to your food and see if it has a positive effect!

3) Cacao

Chocolate certainly brings a smile to most peoples faces. As we saw earlier, poor quality or reduced cacao chocolate can have a negative effect but high cacao chocolate is actually hugely beneficial. Chocolate’s antioxidants may help lower levels of cortisol — known more popularly as the stress hormone. Stressed-out people who ate 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks had lower levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, in a study done recently in Switzerland. Choose dark chocolate with the highest cacao content to get the most antioxidant from it.

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4) Any foods rich in folate

The link between folate (folic acid) deficiency and severe depression – as well as other psychiatric disorders – has been extensively documented. Over the last few years, many studies have looked at the relationship between folate and depression. Low folate levels were regularly detected in severely depressed people and, conversely, symptoms of depression are one of the main indicators of folate deficiency. They also found that people with low folate levels don’t respond as well to SSRI-type antidepressants. Good dietary sources of folate include calves’ liver, pinto, garbanzo, navy and kidney beans, lentils, asparagus and dark leafy greens. Overcooking the greens can destroy the folic acid, so lightly steamed is best. So, if you are finding that your medication is not successfully helping you, it could be that your low levels of folic acid/folate make it literally impossible!

So, we have had a little snap shot of various foods that aid or hinder our emotional well-being. We all want to live as positively as possible but without the right information, diet and mental preparedness, this can be very tough. If you do suffer from these issues, try these suggestions and also make sure to see a professional if you feel it to be serious enough. Your mental health is important so make it a priority.

@2014 Hillary Sepulveda

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