Maybe the symptoms were mild or maybe you have felt like you were experiencing a full-blown panic attack. If so, you are not alone.
The numbers are increasing...
Depression affects more than 150 million people worldwide, making it a leading cause of losing healthy life years as a result of a disability. In the U.S., 1 in 5 adults will experience mental illness in a given year. By 2020, it's estimated that depression may be the second leading cause of healthy years lost, second only to heart disease.
For those struggling with anxiety and depression...it's important to keep in mind that it's not your fault, and it's not a flaw in your character. There are a variety of causes for depression, and there are also some surprisingly great ways to treat it.
Our Standard American Diet (SAD!) plays a serious role in this disease because it lacks the nutrients that our brains desperately need to fire properly. And, as more and more Americans slip into depression, there is less motivation to shop for and prepare nutrient-rich foods, which results in grabbing convenient, highly processed “sugary” and “fried” foods for comfort, and this just escalates the nutrient deficiency that deepens depression...
...what a vicious cycle!
In a story from healthline.com, this is exactly what happened to a 14 year old named Jane. A debilitating panic attack led to her being diagnosed with anxiety and depression and being put on antidepressants. By the age of 23, after many doctors’ visits and therapy, she was told there was nothing more that could be done. Then, after having a meltdown in front of a nutritionist friend, she was introduced to the idea of trying to change her diet to see if it would make her feel better. Jane ate a somewhat healthy diet, but dinner typically involved unhealthy take-out options, and there was also candy throughout the day and ice cream at night. So, she followed the advice of her friend, which included less sugar, grains and dairy, more healthy fats and protein, and lots and lots of vegetables.
Jane said for the first 3 days she "thought she was going to die" but after a few days her energy level began to soar and "instead of focusing on what I couldn't eat, I began focusing on how great I felt physically, which made me feel better mentally and emotionally." Plus, Jane added, "I stopped getting the crazy highs and lows from sugar. I haven't had an anxiety attack in months and am completely off my antidepressants, which I 100 percent attribute to my diet and lifestyle changes."
What causes depression?
There are neurotransmitters in our brains (also called monoamines), which include serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, and they help control the regulation of sleep, energy, appetite and mood. The “mono-amine theory of depression” is that people who are depressed have elevated levels of monoamine oxidase (MAO) which oxidizes, (or “uses up”) your levels of "happy" neurotransmitters, which then affect normal adaptive responses to stress and can lead to depression.
To help with this, pharmaceutical companies have created medications that are MAO inhibitors. Meaning, they interrupt or stop the “oxidation” of monoamines in order to preserve these important neurotransmitters, so you feel better. But, for those struggling with depression, this is NOT the only solution to help you feel better -- believe it or not, REAL food, specifically vegetables and fruits, are equally powerful at preserving these important neurotransmitters!
How can Greens fight the Blues?
Consuming high amounts of fruits and vegetables have been shown to cut the odds of developing depression by as much as 62%! Studies show the “farmacological” phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables act as a highly effective, natural MAO enzyme inhibitor.
- Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, specifically fight the blues because they contain high levels of vitamin C, which helps the production of dopamine...the “zest for life” neurotransmitter. Other "greens" that are loaded with Vitamin C include broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers and kiwi!
- It doesn't stop there! Dark leafy greens are also loaded with folate (folic acid), an important B vitamin known to help fight depression. Other REAL foods high in folate are legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, plus eggs, beets, nuts, seeds, and fruits such as oranges, lemons and limes.
- Antioxidant-rich REAL foods, such as pecans, blueberries, strawberries, kale, red cabbage (and even dark chocolate!) all help reduce inflammation (which is good because inflammation is associated with greater rates of major depression).
A large study done in Great Britain found a dose–response relationship between daily servings of fruits and vegetables and life satisfaction and happiness, meaning more fruits and veggies meant more happiness.
Participants who got up to seven or eight servings a day reported the highest life satisfaction and happiness. And these associations remained significant even after controlling for factors such as income, illness, exercise, smoking, and body weight.
For many, fighting depression may really be as simple as learning how to shop, buy and eat eight servings of fruit and vegetables a day. We have hundreds of recipes on Eat REAL America to help you achieve this! And, here are some other sure-fire ideas you can start today and you will be at eight servings a day in no time!
- Start a daily smoothie habit = 3 servings
- Enjoy a big veggie-loaded salad with lunch or dinner = 3 servings
- Heaping bunch of roasted or steamed veggies with dinner = 2 servings
- Enjoy “veggie noodles” = 1-3 servings
- Keep cut up veggies on hand for easy snacking (with hummus!) = 1-3 or more servings
Once you are saying “8 or more servings of veggies and fruit a day? I got this!" -
what else can you do to dodge depression?
- Douse the flames of inflammation! Studies have shown chronic inflammation may be part of the culprit when it comes to the relationship of diet and depression. It's best to reduce your intake of soda, refined grains, processed meats, and highly processed foods. Instead, enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, including the cabbage family "cruciferous" veggies, along with avocados, fruits (especially berries), fish, nuts, whole grains, beans and herbs and spices.
- Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids! Scientists have recently found that societies that don't eat enough omega-3s may have higher rates of major depressive disorder. Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats found in oils (and other foods like salmon, anchovies, tuna, flaxseeds, nuts, and dark leafy vegetables) that are “essential” to our well-being. As a double benefit, Omega-3s are good for your heart and help reduce inflammation!
- Get your Vitamin D on! Vitamin D receptors are located throughout the body, including our brains. You can consume Vitamin D with foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and shrimp. It is estimated that 77-97% of American adults and adolescents have insufficient Vitamin D levels, and this insufficiency has been linked to depression, so it may be worth considering a Vitamin D3 supplement.
- Pump up the Magnesium! We need 400 mg per day, and most Americans average less than 300 mg per day. Magnesium is essential for our response to stress and for easing anxiety. It is also used in the production of neurotransmitters, maintaining our heart rhythm and for glucose metabolism. Whole-grains, nuts, avocados and salmon are great food sources. In some cases, a magnesium supplement might be worth considering.
- Maintain a Healthy Gut! As much as 95% of our serotonin receptors are found in the lining of our gut. Your diet plays a huge role in how diverse and balanced your gut microbes are -- and there are 100 trillion "good bacteria" found in our digestive tracts! Bacteria need food, just like we need food. So, when we eat, we are also feeding the bacteria in our digestive system. The same foods that are good for us are good for our bacteria and microbiome. Of course, the same foods that are bad for us also cause problems in our microbiome. Great options include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh, miso, Kombucha, and some people elect to use probiotic supplements. Keep in mind, the most important way to feed your microbiome is with fresh REAL (unprocessed) fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. See our coaching tip for more ideas on how to maintain a healthy gut!
- Ditch processed foods! Eliminate highly processed foods, particularly artificial sweeteners such as NutraSweet. Studies have shown that even at a dose of 25 mg/kg (which was only half the acceptable daily intake set by the FDA) after just eight days, participants “had a more irritable mood, and exhibited more depression” and performed worse on certain brain function tests. For more info, check out our coaching tips on sugar and safe artificial sweeteners.
- Get moving! Exercise should be part of the prescribed treatment for depression (but rarely is)! Studies confirm that exercise is just as effective at treating depression as antidepressant medication! Try to set a goal of walking or jogging 3 times per week -- and getting outdoors may be even more beneficial to improving our mood!
Looking for a way to make tempting foods less tempting?
Can a good mood lead to eating good food?
In a recent study, when given a choice between M&M’s and grapes, individuals in a positive mood were more likely to choose the grapes! It's true! The results of these studies lend support to a growing body of research that suggests that positive mood facilitates resistance to temptation!
Even if you aren’t officially diagnosed with depression, try and see how eating 8 or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables can truly help you stay motivated and resist temptation. Prove to yourself that a good mood can lead to eating good food! And, that good food can lead to a good mood!
We would love to hear from you -- please share your ideas about foods that help dodge depression!
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