NUTRITION HOTLINE: Depression and Diet

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NUTRITION HOTLINE:
Depression & Diet

Q: Is there anything I can do with my diet to help depression?

A. Yes, food can have a profound affect on how you feel. Many cases of depression are due to poor nutrition, especially undereating, restriction, and low weight. Often these cases of depression improve with a good, overall balanced diet

Many brain neurotransmitters (i.e., dopamine and norepinephrine which elevate mood and energy) are made from protein or fat in the diet. Carbohydrates are also necessary for the body to make normal levels of serotonin. Eating disorder symptoms, including depression, may be partially caused by serotonin dysregulation in the brain. Restricting or purging can upset the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, making depression worse.

The type of carbohydrates and the timing of meals and snacks also influence mood and energy levels. Lower glycemic carbohydrates release glucose more slowly into the bloodstream, giving you a sustained release of energy that prevents low blood sugar and fatigue. These low glycemic foods include: whole grains, sourdough bread, beans, sweet potatoes and yams, most fruits and vegetables, and all dairy products.

At each meal a person can optimize mood and energy by combining a low glycemic carbohydrate with a lean protein, a fruit or vegetable, and a healthy fat (like olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts, canola mayonnaise or salad dressing.) Meals should be eaten approximately every 4–5 hours, and women need 2–3 snacks per day, while men can feel fine with 1–2 snacks.

Choosing fats high in omega-3 fatty acids can also improve depression. These foods include: salmon, sardines, tuna (high in mercury), herring, halibut, pinto and kidney beans, walnuts, hemp seeds, flax meal, and canola oil and products made with it. The American Psychiatric Association recommends consuming 1,000 mg EPA/DHA per day (the amount found in 3 oz. of wild salmon) to help treat depression, via food and/or a fish oil supplement.

Dietary deficiencies of several vitamins and minerals have been linked to depression, including folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, B-12, vitamin C, calcium, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and iron. I usually recommend that my clients take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement with 100% of the RDA, and sometimes a B-50 supplement as well. Check with your dietitian or doctor to see what is best for you.

By Diane Keddy, MS, RD
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2008 Volume 6, Number 3
©2008 Gürze Books

About the Author

Diane Keddy, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian with a private practice in Newport Beach, CA.

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