A diet high in antioxidants, fiber, lean proteins, and vitamins and minerals may provide the body what it needs to perform at its best and resist depression.
Depression is a mental disorder characterized by a persistent low mood and significant levels of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue. Depression can interfere with daily activities, tolerance for stress, and relationships. If untreated, it can lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Prevalence of Depression
Unfortunately, depression continues to affect an increasing number of people, with an estimated 350 million people globally affected by the disease (World Health Organization). In the United States, depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder, and in 2013, it was estimated that over 20 million patients suffered from major depressive disorders.
The root cause of depression is not well understood. However, evidence shows a lifestyle change can significantly reduce the risk of developing depression and improve the quality of life for those affected by the condition. Eating a healthy diet could be one of the most simple and effective ways to maintain mental health and well-being.
Healthy Diet & Studies
A healthy diet consists of nutritious foods packed with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers. They should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They are low in calories and can be an essential part of a weight management plan. Olive avocados may provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Protein can be obtained from lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Fruits and vegetables, along with healthy grains and lean proteins, are associated with a decreased incidence of depression. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, a nutritious diet can lower the incidence of depression by up to 60 percent (Matta et al., 2018).
A nutritious diet may help to build healthy brain cells, which can lead to improved cognitive function and reduced risk of developing depression in the first place. Certain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D are known to be effective at improving the symptoms of depression.
Current evidence shows that omega-3 PUFAs, essential components for the development of brain and nerve cells, have antidepressant properties. Compared to placebo, omega-3 PUFAs (1 g/d) were substantially linked with reduced symptoms of depressive illness (SMD = -1.03, P = 0.03) (Liao et al., 2019).
In their review, Geng et al. showed that low blood 25(OH)D levels are related to an elevated risk for depression and that vitamin D treatment can alleviate depressive symptoms in those with deficient vitamin D levels (Geng et al., 2019). Previously, serotonin is described as the potential missing link that explains how marine omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D may alleviate the symptoms of various brain illnesses (Patrick et al., 2015).
In addition, a healthy balanced diet should also include a lot of fruits and vegetables, as they contain an abundance of antioxidants and other valuable components that can help decrease the adverse effects of depression.
The mitochondrial malfunction leading to oxidative stress via generating free radicals and reactive oxygen and nitrogen species makes depression worse which can be alleviated by healthy foods or supplements containing antioxidants, like CoQ, vitamin E and vitamin C, and micronutrients (Se, Zn) (Vavakova et al., 2015).
Fruits and vegetables are also excellent sources of dietary fiber, which helps to keep us feeling full for longer, thus making us less likely to succumb to mood-altering cravings. In a representative cohort of Korean adults, higher intakes of seaweed and mushroom fibre were linked to a lower incidence of depression (Kim et al., 2020).
A meta-analysis of 14 randomized, controlled research involving 46,000 individuals revealed that nutrient-boosting, fat-reduction, and weight-loss diets could all improve the symptoms of depression. Eating more nutrient-dense, high-fiber, and vegetable-rich meals while cutting less on fast foods and processed sugars helps to avoid the possible negative psychological impacts of a “junk food” diet (Firth et al., 2019).
Diet may affect mental health via numerous pathways: oxidative stress, inflammation, and mitochondrial dysfunction pathways (Morris et al., 2017). Since the microbiome modulates stress response, immunological function, neurotransmission, and neurogenesis, gut microbiota dysbiosis has also been implicated (Marx et al., 2017).
A healthy diet contains several bioactive chemicals that can benefit these processes. In addition to vitamins, minerals, and fiber, vegetables and fruits include a lot of flavonoids, which may lower depression rates due to their anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and prebiotic characteristics (Chang et al., 2016).
Dietary treatments may also improve mental health by limiting processed meats, refined carbs, and other inflammatory foods, which raise depression risk (Shivappa et al., 2018). Other chemicals in unhealthy diets may harm these pathways. Saturated fatty acids, artificial sweeteners, and emulsifiers in processed meals may change the gut flora, activating inflammatory pathways.
By improving blood serotonin level, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D may alleviate the symptoms of various brain illnesses and depressive symptoms (Patrick et al., 2015).
Furthermore, it is essential to remember that a good and balanced diet should not consist primarily of physical foods.
Psychological nutrients are also essential for reducing depression. Keeping a positive frame of mind, engaging in positive activities, and staying connected with friends and family are all important steps in minimizing the risk and effects of depression.
In conclusion, it is evident that eating a healthy and balanced diet is an effective way to reduce the symptoms of depression. Combined with psychological nutrients, a healthy diet can help significantly reduce the effects of depression and improve the quality of life of those who suffer from the condition.