Right off the top, let’s be clear. Depression and anxiety are caused by chemical imbalances in your brain, and cannot be caused by a poor diet.
However, specific changes to your diet can provide your body and brain with the resources that they need to start to right that imbalance. This, when combined with therapies like cognitive behaviour therapy and depression counselling, proper medication (when required) and lifestyle changes (like exercise) can help improve your mental state.
Some foods can go some way toward improving your state of mind and helping you feel better. Making healthier choices in your diet works together with your overall treatment plan and can lead to a marked improvement in your mental health.
What Kinds Of Healthy Choices Are We Talking About?
There are several ways that a healthy diet can benefit your mental state. Here are some specific examples of how changing what you eat can improve your mental state and mood. It’s also a golden opportunity to try something new in the kitchen while you’re at it. Perhaps you will discover a new favourite recipe in the process!
- Hydration – Let’s get this out of the way first. Proper hydration is vital to managing mood disorders. Dehydration impacts many of your body’s systems, but especially digestion and detoxing your blood (i.e. liver and kidney function). To get the fullest benefits of your new diet, medication, and exercise program, you need to stay hydrated.
Your body needs the equivalent of 2.7-3.7 litres of water per day, depending on gender, activity levels, age, and how often you sweat. However, your food contributes a significant amount of water, often more than we think. For instance, a raw carrot is between 86%-89% water.
Drink when you’re thirsty; stop when you’re not. If your urine is clear or light yellow, then you’re getting enough water.
- Eating Regular Meals – At the same time, make sure you eat a balanced diet and avoid skipping meals. Eating healthy and regularly is a vital part of relieving stress, so make it a priority. Keep an eye out for healthy, delicious recipes that’ll stimulate your taste buds and help you stay fit physically and mentally.
- Smart carbs have a calming effect – In general, carbohydrates are linked to serotonin, a brain chemical that can help boost your mood. Complex carbs (like whole grains) are the healthier carb option; however, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are also healthy sources of carbohydrates and fibre.
- Protein-rich foods boost alertness – Protein-rich foods like meat are linked to serotonin production as well. Eating protein during the day helps clear your mind and keeps you energized. Prioritize healthy protein options (like fish, lean meat, and milk products) to maximize your health benefits.
- Mediterranean diets are rich in B-vitamins – Studies have linked depression with a deficiency in B-vitamins, like folate and vitamin B12. Try a Mediterranean diet with legumes, fruits, and dark greens. These foods are rich in folate, while you can get vitamin B12 from lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Adding spinach and grilled salmon to a Greek salad checks off all the boxes and tastes delicious.
- Selenium-rich foods improve mood – Low levels of selenium can cause poor moods and contribute to feeling down. On average, adults should get at least 55 micrograms of selenium a day to stay healthy. Eat selenium-rich foods, like fish, nuts, ham and pork, and mushrooms to get enough selenium for your body’s needs.
- Omega-3 fatty acids boost overall health – Studies have shown that people lacking in omega-3 fatty acids are more prone to depressive disorders. Eating foods rich in omega-3 can help you stay centred. Foods like fish and leafy greens are rich in omega-3. As a bonus, getting plenty of omega-3 is also great for your heart, giving you plenty more reason to stock up.
- Antioxidants keep your cells healthy – Your body produces molecules called free radicals that contribute to cell ageing and directly impact your brain. Foods rich in antioxidants can counteract some of the effects of these free radicals. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (like broccoli, nuts, and oranges) to get the antioxidants you need.
Specific Foods That Help
We’ve seen many types of foods crop up in more than one of the lists above, like leafy greens, fish, nuts, and milk products. Most healthy options are generally good for your body and mind together. But are there specific foods that are optimal choices for improving mood and staving off anxiety?
Why yes, yes, there are. Try indulging in these options now and then to help deal with your symptoms and support your mental health regime:
- Avocados – Avocados are packed with nutrients, including vitamin B6 and magnesium, which help your brain produce serotonin. They also contain plenty of healthy fat, which the brain needs to operate. Try adding avocado slices to your salads, omelettes, or on toast to include them in your diet.
- Chocolate – People have been using chocolate as the ultimate comfort food for years. Dark chocolate (70% or higher) can provide minerals and chemicals that help reduce the symptoms of depression (e.g. magnesium). Chocolate may also reduce cortisol, a stress hormone linked to anxiety.
Note: recent studies have shown that there is no statistical link between milk chocolate and a reduction in depression symptoms. It’s the rich, dark stuff that helps.
- Tea – Tea can help you deal with anxiety. While coffee often works as a pick-me-up, tea is better at helping you calm down. Take a cup about an hour before bed to help you sleep and recharge. Quality sleep is one key to maintaining your mental balance. Green and chamomile tea are especially good options for anxiety-reducing drinks.
- Yogurt – You’ve heard that yogurt contains healthy bacteria that are good for your body. As it turns out, yogurt may also help your mental health. Some studies show that yogurt helps reduce social anxiety. Chronic inflammation can affect anxiety and stress levels; eating yogurt can help keep inflammation under control. If yogurt isn’t your cup of tea, other probiotic foods include sauerkraut, pickles, and miso.
- Apples – As the saying goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” In this case, that can include depression. Apples are high in antioxidants, which helps keep your cells healthy and prevent cellular inflammation. They also contain plenty of soluble fibre to help balance blood sugar swings. Add apples to your daily diet for a healthy boost to your mind and body.
A healthy, well-balanced diet can do a lot to help you keep your anxiety under control, but it also helps to talk to a therapist. Contact York Region Psychological Services when you need therapy to help with your issues. We offer a wide range of services, including therapy for individuals, couples, and children.
We want to help you find strategies for your issues and help you get your life back on track. Drop us a line at (416) 602-3230 or visit our contact page now to make an appointment.