Mental Health

Best Diet for Fighting Depression and Anxiety

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By Michael Locklear

Making simple changes to your diet can have profound effects on your brain and body. Scientific organizations all over the world have found that eating the right foods can reverse depression, reduce anxiety, boost energy levels, improve mental alertness and concentration, and fight a variety of chronic health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

To help heal your depression, make sure to get these foods into your diet:

Nutrient-Rich Foods
Nutrients help to maintain your body's health. They come in the form of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and some fats. Some nutrients give us energy, such as complex carbohydrates and proteins. Others boost our metabolism, like water, vitamins and minerals. Nutrient deficiency prevents the body from working at full capacity. Not getting all of the nutrients you need can result in a host of health problems.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
 Participants in a 2002 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry took just a gram of fish oil each day and noticed a 50 percent reduction in depression symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disorders, unexplained feelings of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and decreased sex drive. Omega-3 fatty acids can lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. Foods that contain significant amounts of omega-3s include:

  • fish oil
  • tuna
  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • flaxseed
  • canola oil
  • soybean oil
  • walnuts
  • dark, leafy greens

The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a balanced, healthy eating regime based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It consists of lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, legumes, and fish. These foods contain nutrients essential to proper brain function, making it an ideal diet for depression.

One study involving over 10,000 adults, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, showed that those who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet were more than 30% less likely to develop depression than those who least adhered to the diet.

Scientists have linked folate and vitamin B-12 deficiency to depression. The Mediterranean diet consists of high levels of these two nutrients, as well as heart healthy omega-3s, monounsaturated fats ("good fats"), and dietary fiber. Folate is found in legumes, nuts, fruits, and dark green vegetables, and B-12 can be found in all lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.

Damaging molecules called free radicals are produced in our bodies during normal body functions. These free radicals speed up the aging process, and contribute to many health problems. Antioxidants like beta-carotene and vitamins C and E fight the effects of free radicals, stripping them of their destructive powers.

Francine Grodstein, ScD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, studied the effects of beta carotene on memory and cognitive functioning, concluding that beta carotene can boost memory and reduce chances of dementia. Beta carotene's cognitive benefits can also help lessen symptoms of depression.

In a study 40 chronic psychiatric inpatients received 1 gram a day of ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C). Significant improvements were seen in depressive and manic symptoms as well as in overall well-being. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it has been reported that depressed people have lower levels of vitamin E.

Complex Carbohydrates
Eating foods high in complex carbohydrates (whole wheat breads and pastas, cereals, brown rice) raises your levels of serotonin, a mood-lifting brain chemical. Serotonin fights the effects of depression and anxiety.

Researchers from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that over the course of one year of dieting, people who participated in a low fat, high carbohydrate diet had better moods than people who participated in a high fat, low carbohydrate diet.

A study reported at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) compared depression scores of women on a low-protein high-carbohydrate diet to women on a high-protein low-carbohydrate diet. The women placed on the high-protein low-carbohydrate diet showed significant improvements in their depression scores and self-esteem, while the low-protein high-carbohydrate women showed no improvement.

Protein-rich foods contain high levels of the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine aids in the production of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals boost your energy, improving alertness and concentration.

Protein is utilized in the in the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, chemicals which enhance alertness and concentration, and improve symptoms of depression.

Try to include proteins in your diet several times a day. Good sources of protein are:

  • beans and peas
  • lean beef
  • low-fat cheese
  • fish
  • milk
  • poultry
  • soy products
  • yogurt

Vitamin D
Vitamin D increases serotonin levels in your brain. Researchers from the University of Toronto found that people who were suffering from depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to improve as their levels of vitamin D in the body increased over the normal course of a year. Vitamin D can be found in most dairy products and fish.

Michael Locklear is a researcher and consultant with 30 years experience, studying health, nutrition, and human behavior. He has been president of the Global Peace Project since 1986, and he adminstrates the websites Natural Remedies for Depression and Quick Weight Loss Tips as part of the Global Peace Project educ" type="text/javascript"> ational outreach program.