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Foods that Fight Depression: Eat Your Way to Happiness

Can Food Really Make You Feel Better Emotionally?

Time and time again, we’ve seen the female lead in a romantic comedy drown her sorrows in a bucket of ice cream. There’s long been the running joke about women and chocolate improving PMS symptoms and improving mood. It’s been said the enzymes in chocolate can mimic an ‘in love’ feeling.

There are foods considered aphrodisiacs that can increase sexual arousal and desire. With all this ‘evidence,’ it seems clear people believe food can and does alter body chemistry and thus influences mood. If this is the case, it makes sense that some foods can trigger depressive moods while other foods might actually help fight depression.

Body Chemistry and Food

Human brains release hormones and neurotransmitters that control and affect the body chemistry. The brain sometimes also absorbs and re-uptakes those things in order to regulate and control things in the body from hormone release, pain sensation, reflexes, and even mood to sleep cycles, menstrual cycles, and muscle repair.

Food is the fuel the body uses for energy and to sustain certain body functions. When the body receives the proper nutrition in the right combination for the individual needs of that body, the brain and the body will work most efficiently, and controlling mood is much easier to achieve.

Depression Isn’t Always Bad

The first thing to consider is that depression, or being depressed, is sometimes a normal condition. Depression is one of the stages of grieving, for example, that all human beings have to work through to get to healing. It is normal to feel sad when someone dies, when a relationship ends, or when something we perceive as negative happens.

While there are things we can do to alleviate some of the depth of depression in a situation where depression is natural, it is important to note that no magic pill, no magic food, no magic anything is going to take away situational depression that has a cause.

When Depression Isn’t Situational

There are people who battle feelings of depression, even when the situation doesn’t warrant it. Some people simply feel a lingering sense of sadness, depression, and loneliness that cannot be associated with a situation, and may even feel this way when their mind is logically saying they should be happy. This is the type of depression changing body chemistry might help. One way to change body chemistry is through choosing the proper foods for the body type, activity, and specific mood needs.

What Foods Might Trigger Depression?

First, it must be understood that one of the key ways to fight depression is to get plenty of sleep, so the body can repair and heal itself, rebuild muscle, and the brain gets to rest and work out certain things in our subconscious mind through dreams. Some foods might cause some people heartburn, restlessness, or other uncomfortable feelings that might interfere with sleep.

Avoiding spicy foods, tomato-based foods, and other things that might cause indigestion or heartburn within several hours of bedtime, will help ensure a sound night’s sleep. Also, avoid foods in the evening that might cause water retention and reducing fluid intake within four hours of going to bed at night can help ensure sleeping through the night without waking to urinate.

High-protein meals, such as red meats, within hours of bedtime can also interfere with sleep cycles and reduce the quality of sleep. Therefore, saving high-protein meals for during the day when still active so as to burn off the protein in activity can help improve sleep quality, and thus help prevent depression due to poor sleep cycles.

What Foods Can Help Alleviate Depression?

Fresh fruits are the best ‘happy makers’ when it comes to fighting depression with food. Fresh fruits contain the best natural sugar the body can process, and all bodies need some sugar. Fruits also help with hydration and are full of essential nutrients that are not found in anything other than fresh fruits.

Some of the best fresh fruits to eat to help fight depression are:

  • Dates
  • Papaya
  • Bananas (good for potassium too)
  • Strawberries
  • Mangos
  • Pineapple
  • Grapefruit
  • Guava
  • Apricots
  • Peaches
  • Apples

When dieting, one of the most common things eliminated from the diet is fat. Unfortunately, fat is absolutely essential for the proper function of the brain. Excluding all forms of fat from a diet can cause problems with mood and potentially lead to depression. Remember, not all fat is created equally.

Fats from fish oil are excellent to add to a diet to help with depression. Eating lightly cooked, sautéed, or even raw fish (sashimi) can add some essential fats back into the body that help with proper brain function. When the brain works like it should, depression is nearly impossible.

Some other sources of good fats are:

  • Nuts (pecans, Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds)
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil

Season Affective Disorder (SAD)

Another common cause of depression and depressed feelings is a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. This condition occurs most frequently in the winter months or in locations in the world where the sun does not shine often. SAD causes depressed moods due to the lack of sunlight, which helps with vitamin D absorption, as well as releasing other chemicals in the body necessary for good mood and balance. People who spend a lot of the daylight hours indoors may also suffer from SAD.

Spending more time in the sunlight or with special sunlamps can help with SAD, but so can eating certain foods, particularly those with high levels of vitamin D.

Some foods high in vitamin D that can help fight depression caused by SAD include:

  • Liver
  • Salmon
  • Vitamin D fortified whole milk
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Egg yolk

(Read more about SAD here.)Lacking energy and feeling lethargic can also lead to symptoms of depression. Foods rich in B vitamins can help combat lack of energy in a natural way, instead of artificial boosts from processed sugars and caffeine, and without the inevitable ‘crash’ these chemicals cause a few hours later. Also, getting plenty of fiber in a diet can help prevent gas, bloating and lethargy, all of which can cause some depression symptoms.

To boost energy naturally with food and feel better, consider trying to add these foods to your diet:

  • Spinach
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Salmon
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole Grains

Worst Foods That Cause or Trigger Depression

There are two things that should not be consumed if looking to combat depression, because both are known to trigger crashes: caffeine and processed sugar. If looking to increase mood through food in a natural way, both of these should be eliminated.

Learning to eat the right foods for body needs can increase mood and help with symptoms of depression. As always, consult a health care professional or mental health professional if depression symptoms are severe enough that changing diet won’t help quickly enough. Also, if taking medication for depression, be sure to consult a physician after major diet changes to monitor progress and changes that eating different foods might cause in dosage requirements.

It is possible to ‘eat your way to happiness’ if the right foods are eating in the right portion sizes for the body’s needs. Bon appetite.

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