How Eating Healthy Can Actually Make You Less Depressed

Depression is a complex and multifaceted illness that afflicts 14.8 million adults in the U.S. a variety of different ways. However, certain measures can be taken by anyone afflicted by the disorder to partially alleviate its symptoms. One highly effective method is maintaining a healthy diet.

Why Junk Food Tastes So Good

We all deal with some form of stress every day. Whether it’s caused by getting cut off in traffic or losing a job, we tend to crave foods high in saturated fat, salt and refined sugars when stressed. This is because junk food is designed with dynamically contrasting flavors and textures that stimulate a powerful salivary response. Those two aspects combined with the vanishing caloric density of many prepackaged snacks makes indulging in junk food a pleasurable habit.

How Junk Foods Make Depression Worse

Regardless how fun it is to eat, junk food is bad for us as it generally lacks nutrients and tricks out bodies into believing that we aren’t full, even after consuming loads of empty calories. Over time, the excess consumption of unhealthy foods like chips, cookies, doughnuts and sugary breakfast cereals can also lead to weight gain and negatively affect our hormone production levels, which can induce symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness and joint pain, all of which can exacerbate and prolong a depressed state of mind.

Not So Comforting Foods

It’s worth noting that while we think of carbohydrate rich foods such as ice cream, pie and mashed potatoes as comforting, they aren’t ideal for calming us down. Asparagus, broccoli and spinach are full of folic acid and will increase your serotonin levels. In additional to tasting great, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries are packed with anthocyanin, an antioxidant that increases cognitive function and vitamin C, which is great for reducing stress. And for those who find themselves plagued with cravings for fat and protein, grab a handful of cashews. They’ll help quell your urges and they’re a great source of zinc, a lack of which can induce feelings of anxiety.

A Diet from the Old World

As this Mayo Clinic article explains, maintaining a healthy diet can protect against certain ailments, including depression. Although there is no one diet that has been definitively proven to have a curative effect on depression, a Mediterranean diet has been proven to lower the risks of developing of illnesses like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The diet prescribes a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish while eschewing the consumption of dairy, poultry, meats and refined sugars. By adhering to those intake standards, you can keep your metabolic functions working properly, which in turn keeps your hormone levels balanced, your endorphins pumping and your energy levels high.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Unfortunately, there is no catch all cure for depression. And no diet, no matter how healthy, will serve as an effective treatment for the disorder by itself. But, as a part of an overall health plan that includes regular exercise, some form of habitual therapy and a support system made up of friends and family members who can help you when you begin a downward spiral, you can lessen the debilitating effects of a persistent depressive state. With these safeguards in place, you can turn a serious mental illness into a manageable chronic condition.