Depression is almost literally a prison that locks us away from a life we should enjoy. While modern science pushes of a mix of talk therapy and medication, mounting evidence shows diet may map the permanent path to a happy outlook.
Depression is a mental illness. It’s built on negative thoughts that overpower the senses. Often it can lock us away from the outside world until we feel that our thoughts are reality and reality is a kind of distant dream.
350 million people suffer from depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S. alone, suicide takes 40,000 lives a year. That accounts for more deaths than car accidents and more than at the height of the Vietnam war. Shockingly, so much of this despair may come down to what we eat.
How Food Affects Mood: The Diet-Depression Link
According to The Gene Therapy Plan by Mitchell L. Gaynor, MD, food doesn’t just give us energy. Food can quite literally change our genetic structure. In other words, while we’re stuck with the genes we were born with, the way those genes build us depends heavily on diet.
Our diet affects our mood in zillions of ways. Most people know blood sugar changes can make us feel happy or sad. Beyond that, chemicals made by bacteria in the gut can directly affect how we feel. Eating foods that make this or that gut bacteria breed like rabbits can flip the happy switch to on or off.
Even artificial sweeteners can push us into sad land. Aspartame can eat up serotonin. That’s the “happiness hormone” and without it, we can slide into feeling permanently blue.
A Depression Zapping Diet
A diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies and without a lot of added sugar can lift our mood like a truckload full of helium. Other surprising food/mood choices are below:
- Cut out the alcohol. Not only does regular alcohol consumption decimate the serotonin levels, but it also causes mood swings and depression.
- Cut down on calories. High calorie foods like cake, soda or even bread or pasta give the body a blood-sugar boost. Though that feels great, the inevitable crash torpedoes the mood.
- Ramp up the bulk. Cutting calories isn’t enough. To lift serotonin levels and feel full and comfy, eat lots of veggies packed with vitamins that don’t add to the sugar blues.
- Nix caffeine. Caffeine sources like coffee and energy drinks makes us feel great short term, but they slash serotonin in the long term, making us both sad and sleepless.
- Get plenty of B12. Foods rich in B12 like lentils, spinach, almonds and fish pack high levels of B12 that serves to level mood swings. They can even stave off dementia.
- Don’t shun the sun. It’s not just a cliche that the sun makes people happy. The vitamin D that comes from sun exposure and fruits and milk directly affects mood.
- Fish fat means miles of smiles. Omega-3 fats from fish are another crucial depression-fighting diet source. They aid brain and behavior function and can regulate moods.
- Go nutty for nuts. Nuts pack healthy fats that help the brain, but they also contain selenium, a proven depression-fighting mineral.
- Go ahead: eat chocolate. Dark chocolate without sugar has been shown to improve brain function and increase serotonin levels. Now there’s something to be happy about!
The depression diet link is well established. While medical science still recommends talk therapy and medication, making some of the food choices above really can create a sunnier outlook.
Want to kick the coffee habit to the curb? See our full guide to coffee alternatives here.