There are many factors that can contribute to mental health conditions.
We may deal with symptoms of anxiety or depression because of a specific situation. For example, maybe being in a car accident triggers mental health symptoms for you.
You might also have struggled with anxiety or depression throughout your entire life.
Regardless of the specifics of your situation, your diet does play a role in your mental health. Diet doesn’t replace proper medical care, but many people don’t see how important what they eat is to how they feel and how they manage their symptoms of anxiety or depression.
The following are important things to know about diet and mental health.
Diet and Inflammation
Inflammation is a risk factor for depression and anxiety. When you have chronic inflammation, it often stems from what you eat. The more processed foods you eat and the fewer whole, nutrient-dense foods you consume, the more likely you are to have inflammation throughout your body.
Researchers aren’t completely sure how inflammation plays a role in depression and anxiety, but in general, inflammation can trigger a cascade of negative effects.
For example, cytokines are something in our body that are elevated during periods of inflammation. Cytokines can affect brain neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
Anti-inflammatory foods that are good to include in your diet are:
- Berries including strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
- Fatty fish like salmon and sardines which contain omega-3 fatty acids
- Avocados that have healthy fats as well as potassium, fiber, and magnesium
- Green tea, which reduces pro-inflammatory cytokine production
- Mushrooms that have phenols and antioxidants
- Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory spice
Does Depression Lead to Unhealthy Diets?
There is often a question of which comes first with anxiety and depression and unhealthy diets. Do people’s diets tend to contribute to their symptoms of anxiety or depression, or do they eat an unhealthy diet as a way of coping with symptoms that already exist?
The short answer is that it could be both.
Cutting Out Sugar
A lot of people find that even if they don’t drastically change their diet, reducing or cutting out sugar helps their mental health significantly.
Sugar is often found in refined foods, including pasta, baked goods, bread, and soda. These foods are often linked to depression, perhaps because of the inflammation component.
Sugar is also more addictive than cocaine, according to a study done on rats. The study found that the sweetness of sugar stimulates the reward center of your brain and, even in people with drug addiction, may create more pleasure than cocaine. That means the high you can get from sugar can be greater than the one you might get from cocaine.
What Vitamins and Nutrients Are Important?
If you feel that you could improve your diet and you’d like to as part of your efforts to help your anxiety or depression, consider including the following in what you eat on a regular basis:
- Vitamin D: Having a vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common, particularly among certain demographics such as older people. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to higher levels of inflammation and chronic disease. Most people get vitamin D from exposure to the sun, but certain foods also have it including oily fish, eggs, and beef liver. If you can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun or your diet, it may be a good idea to use a supplement.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are also referred to as healthy fats, and the foods high in these include cold-water fish like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts. You can also use an omega-3 supplement.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants fight inflammation and include Vitamins A, C, and E. Foods rich in antioxidants are fruits and vegetables primarily.
- B Vitamins: Vitamins B-12 and B-9 help you have a healthy nervous system and they might reduce the symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. Foods with B-12 include eggs, poultry, and meat. Foods with B-9 also called folate, include dark, leafy green vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, and nuts.
- Zinc: There have been studies showing that people with depression may have lower zinc levels, and taking a zinc supplement has been shown to help improve the effectiveness of antidepressants. Zinc is found in foods like oysters, beef, chicken and pork, and whole grains.
If you’re dealing with any mental health concerns, first and foremost, speak to a medical provider. Beyond that, you might want to consider making changes in your diet.