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Diet for depression

No one food or diet can prevent or treat depression. However, there is evidence that eating a healthy balanced diet is just as important for a person's mental health as it is for physical health.

Depression and eating can also be bad together. Being in a low mood can affect appetite or food choices. People prescribed antidepressants for depression may find these treatments affect their appetite.

How can my diet affect my depression?

Dietary changes can bring about changes in your brain structure, both chemically and physiologically. Those changes can improve your mood and mental outlook. Here are 10 tips for eating if you or a loved one are recovering from clinical depression.

1. Eat a diet high in nutrients

Nutrients in food support the body's repair, growth, and wellbeing. Nutrients we all need include vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and even a small amount of fat. A deficiency in any of these nutrients leads to our bodies not working at full capacity - and can even cause illness.

2. Fill your plate with essential antioxidants

Damaging molecules called free radicals are produced in our bodies during normal body functions - and these free radicals contribute to ageing and dysfunction. Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that studies suggest protect and repair cells from damage caused by free radicals. However, it’s not clear yet if antioxidants have a health benefit in people.

Foods rich in antioxidants, include:

  • Sources of beta-carotene: apricots, broccoli, melon, carrots, cabbage, peaches, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato.
  • Sources of vitamin C: blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomato.
  • Sources of vitamin E: margarine, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ.

3. Eat “smart” carbohydrates for a calming effect

Some studies show a connection between carbohydrates and mood, which is linked to the brain chemical, serotonin. We know that eating foods high in carbohydrates (bread, cereals, pasta) raises the level of serotonin in the brain. When serotonin levels rise, we feel a calming effect with less anxiety.

So don’t shun carbohydrates - just make sensible choices. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which all contribute healthy carbohydrates as well as fibre.

4. Eat protein-rich foods to boost alertness

Foods rich in protein, like turkey, tuna, or chicken, are rich in an amino acid called tyrosine. Sometimes tyrosine is used in an attempt to boost levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and noradrenaline but one analysis concluded there is no "meaningful evidence" that it actually works. Its use is supported by one small study, but a larger study found no evidence of benefit.

Good sources of protein foods that may boost alertness: beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soya products, yoghurt.

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