The famous phrase, “you are what you eat” tends to make us think of obesity and diabetes. However, many studies are showing connections between one’s eating habits and depression. Have you noticed how you feel after a big Thanksgiving meal? Maybe tired our lousy? It’s all those carbs and refined sugars that lead to inflammation in our bodies, including our brain, that can impact our mood and emotional states.
As a provider, I see many patients with depression who require treatment. I am a big advocate of self-care—coping skills such as sleep, physical activity, healthy eating and vitamin supplementations. These lifestyle habits are as important as medications and therapy; maybe even more. I am passionate about diet and lifestyle as measures for good health. A high amount of evidence supports the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle for not just heart disease, diabetes, and cholesterol, but even depression and anxiety.
As a society, we may recognize that our unhealthy eating habits affect our organs such as the pancreas, liver, and heart, but few realize these habits affect our brain as well. Let’s not forget our brain is an organ just like the rest of our body! Studies done by psychiatrists, have shown that people who eat a healthy diet with a high intake of fruits, vegetables, antioxidants and low animal product intake have decreased risk of depression. Whereas, a high intake of fat, sugars, meat and processed food increases one’s risk of developing depression. It can be a challenge to know if an unhealthy diet contributed to depression or vice versa. However, studies have shown that eating a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, lowers the risk of experiencing depression symptoms in patients. Overall, what can go wrong with eating a healthy balanced meal?
It has been drilled in our heads that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—a rule of thumb that I agree with. Our bodies are well rested from the night before and need the energy boost to get through the whole day until it can rest again that night. Eating a good breakfast is key to increasing our energy and motivation for the day. I recommend green smoothies to everyone; they are simple, easy and nutritious. I always tell my patients pick two veggies; usually kale and spinach, then add a fruit such as apple, banana, strawberries, and a bit of almond or peanut butter and almond milk—and there you go, you have a nutritious start to your morning with the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need, all in one drink. It is important to get in some protein in the morning as proteins kickstart our muscles and cells to give us the energy we need throughout the day.
Throughout the day, you should increase your intake of green vegetables such as kale, spinach, or broccoli; may it be through a smoothie, salad, or boiled alongside a piece of grilled chicken for dinner. The vitamins and minerals found in eating vegetables and fruits aid in mental health, since your brain also needs vitamins to function properly. The overall key is to increase protein and vegetable intake and minimize carbohydrates and fats during the day.
The main message is, eat plants, and lots of them, including fruits and veggies, whole grains, unprocessed nuts and lean proteins, like fish and yogurt. Avoid things made with added sugars or flours, such as: breads, baked goods, cereals, and pastas. Reduce animal fats, processed meats (sorry, this includes bacon) and butter. Occasional intake of these “bad” foods is fine; we all have our cheat days. But the main key is moderation.
A healthy diet will not cure depression on its own, but it is an important supplemental treatment option to add onto the standard treatment options offered. Medications may have possible negative side effects but improving your diet only has positive ones, such as: weight loss, improved blood pressure and cholesterol and now improved depression symptoms. Everyone can follow a healthy balanced diet and can use it to prevent depression or improve symptoms of depression.
Arti J. Patel, PA-C, MSPAS earned her Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, PA. Building up a trusting relationship with her clients is extremely important to her. She is aware that listening and learning from her patients is one of the key stepping-stones to building this relationship, which is why she prides herself on her active listening skills and compassionate, patient-centered care approach. She offers medication management for a variety of mindcare issues at our Bush St location in Raleigh. More information at https://www.mindpathcare.com/staff/arti-j-patel-pa-c-mspas/.
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