Health Q&A

Foods That Can Help Beat Depression

July 1, 2018

Depression is a mood disorder that affects a wide audience irrespective of gender, race or cultural background. It’s characterised by persistent feelings of sadness that can severely affect the quality of your life. The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 300 million people are affected by depression worldwide.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) defines depression as a “whole-body illness” because it affects the body and mind. Treatment for depression includes taking medication like antidepressants, undergoing counselling and making positive lifestyle changes like getting enough exercise and following a nutritious diet.

Symptoms of depression:

People suffering from depression can experience a range of emotional or physical symptoms that last for at least two weeks and can vary in severity and duration.

Some of the emotional symptoms may include feelings like:

  • Sadness or emptiness
  • Irritability, frustration or anger
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Hopelessness or helplessness
  • Suicidal or self-harming thoughts

Some of the physical symptoms may include:

  • Poor concentration or indecision
  • Sleep disturbances like insomnia
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or work
  • Low sex drive
  • Medical conditions like headaches or digestive problems
  • Appetite irregularities resulting in either weight loss or gain
  • Fatigue or lack of energy

Healthy eating – healthy mind

Following a nutritious diet is a good way to ensure a healthy body and mind. While there is no single food or diet that can cure depression, there are foods that are mood boosting and so can help ease depression and keep the brain in good working order.

Begin by making the right choices. Choose a balanced diet that is rich in essential nutrients, eat three meals each day and stay hydrated with at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. Your diet should include fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy and fats. For those suffering from depression, there are specific foods that have been found to help alleviate the disorder.

Foods that can help beat depression

1. Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates nourish the brain by providing energy in the form of glucose. These foods are low on the Glycaemic Index, which means that glucose converts to energy slowly. This ensures a continuous and stable source of fuel to the brain, as opposed to foods that are high on the Glycaemic Index, convert glucose quickly, and provide only a short spike of energy.  Complex carbohydrates are also instrumental in boosting the production of serotonin, the ‘feel good’ hormone, which can have a calming effect on the mind.

Sources include:

  • Whole wheat bread or pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Multigrain cereal like oats
  • Quinoa
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and marrows
  • Fruit like apples, pears and prunes

2. Protein

Protein can assist with depression as it helps with the slow absorption of carbohydrates in the blood and boosts the production of dopamine and norepinephrine.

Sources include:

  • Eggs
  • Nuts, like almonds
  • Poultry, such as turkey or chicken
  • Dairy, like yoghurt, cheese or milk
  • Lean beef
  • Legumes
  • Fish

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is believed to affect brain functioning. Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiencies and the prevalence of depression and other mental illnesses. So, stock up on vitamin D enriched foods.

Sources include:

  • Oily fish like tuna and salmon
  • Fortified cereals and juice
  • Egg yolks
  • Leafy green vegetables

4. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is also believed to affect mood as studies have revealed that insufficient levels of vitamin C can cause a decrease in both dopamine and serotonin levels in the body, resulting in anxiety and depression.

Sources include:

  • Citrus fruits like oranges
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

4. Vitamin B

Vitamin B can affect the functioning of the brain and mood as it’s instrumental in regulating metabolism where carbohydrates are converted into energy.

Sources include:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Fortified whole grain cereals
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Seafood

Food to avoid

There are also foods that should be avoided by those suffering from depression. This includes foods that are low in nutritional value and those that are high on the Glycaemic Index because foods that provide only a short spike of energy to the brain can result in mood swings. Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of medication, like anti-depressants, so should be avoided.

Some of the foods to avoid or eat in moderation include:

  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Refined sugar
  • Deep-fried foods
  • Processed foods
  • Alcohol

There is a clear relationship between the quality of food you eat and mental health, so it’s best to plan a healthy diet that will ensure your overall mental wellbeing. Those suffering from depression should take extra care with their nutrition so that they can nourish their brain and stabilise their moods.

At Topmed we’re committed to promoting good mental health, so if you or a loved one suffer from depression, we suggest you consult your doctor or a mental health care professional to get the best treatment programme for your recovery. Get in touch today to sign up for cover for yourself and your family.

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