You’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” But is it true? Experts say yes — in many ways. Food is fuel for the body, including the brain. When you eat foods that are good for your body, not only do you feel physically better, but you also feel more mentally alert and may even have an improved mood. In fact, doctors have named one specific diet that they believe can improve depression symptoms.
Your diet can affect your depression. | Kitzcorner/Getty Images
When you have depression, you typically have negative thoughts and feelings about life. Some people feel disinterested in activities they once loved; others become distant to friends and family. Sometimes, people feel there is no way out of the depressive state, which leads to suicide or suicidal thoughts.
Depression is not a state of mind. It’s a true biological illness that affects the brain. When someone has depression, there are a few factors at play. First, they likely have low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that helps regulate mood and behavior, as well as other things such as appetite, sleep, and memory. When serotonin levels are low, a person’s mood may be directly affected, leading to symptoms of depression.
Researchers believe cell growth plays a direct role in depression symptoms, too. Depressed people have a smaller hippocampus, the region of the brain that controls memory and emotion. And the longer they’re depressed, the smaller that area becomes. Researchers attribute this directly to a lack of cell growth in the area. The smaller the hippocampus becomes, the more detached a person becomes from their true emotions.
Since nutrients are required to fuel the brain, a proper diet is essential for allowing you brain to perform in the best way it can. According to Psychology Today, alcohol, which is a known depressant, is an example of something that should not be consumed if you’re dealing with the depression. Caffeine is also a known depressant. Foods that are high in sugar send your blood sugar levels sky high, then quickly drop them. This can affect your mood and behavior, so these foods should be avoided as well.
Eating foods that increase serotonin levels is one way to help your depression. Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, is found in foods such as turkey and chickpeas. Eating tryptophan can increase those serotonin levels and improve your overall mood. Vitamins B12 and D are also known to help improve your mood, so eat foods that provide those nutrients to help combat depression.
If there is one diet doctors recommend, it’s the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is full of healthy, vitamin-rich foods, such as vegetables, fish, and nuts, which can help provide nutrients to the brain that help fend off depression. According to CNN, a recent study that assessed the effects of the Mediterranean on those with depression found that those who followed a strict Mediterranean diet were 33% less likely to be diagnosed with depression when compared with people who did not follow those eating habits. The study provides evidence that you truly are what you eat. The foods your body physically processes play a large role in the way your brain mentally thinks.
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