Everyone has a downer of a day now and then. The kind where you just have the blues and are feeling low. Similarly, everyone has fears and things that induce nervousness. Find some dietary tips for how to boost your mood in our article How Nutrients Affect Mood and Behavior and the biological pathways they work through in our article This is Your Brain on Food. In this article, the focus is whether or not diet can help treat depression and anxiety.
Depression and anxiety often get lumped together because they share symptoms. An unpleasant situation could bring about both a sense of hopelessness and deep fear. The two are separate diagnoses though, and each has different variations. Treatment may include medications, therapy, and self-care, which includes diet, and is just as important as other forms of treatment.
Eating and Depression and Anxiety
You just crushed your workday, how do you celebrate? Your latest project proposal got rejected, your friend canceled plans last minute, and now you are home alone feeling down about your day. You go into the kitchen and…
We tend to eat a certain way because we feel a certain way, and likewise, we feel a certain way because of our eating habits. What we eat influences the production and suppression of neurotransmitters and hormones. Quite naturally, we tend to gravitate towards foods that boost levels of “feel-good” neurotransmitters, like dopamine, when we are down. But what comes first? The depression and anxiety or food choices? For depression and anxiety, the answer is likely neither; the relationship between diet and depression is bidirectional.
When diagnosed with depression or anxiety, we don’t have only a bad day or one day of jitters and fears. Depression and anxiety can become lifelong partners, which is why eating for mental health every day can play such a significant role in the treatment of these disorders and comes recommended by many doctors.
The Science of Diet and Depression and Anxiety
The comorbidity of depression and anxiety and other diseases is pushing doctors to treat all of a patient’s concerns individually, rather than treat only the symptoms and side-effects of medications. It is also a call for further research.
Nutritional Psychology investigates how nutrients affect mood and behavior. Part of that research focuses on how our diets can be part of comprehensive treatment for depression and anxiety.
Diet as Part of Anxiety and Depression Treatment
Research suggests that diet and dietary improvement influence risk of depression and appearance of anxiety behaviors. Because depression is an inflammatory disease, an anti-inflammatory diet might contribute greatly to treatment.
Here is a list of foods, nutrients, and habits that play a role in depression and anxiety:
Can cause increased anxiety-like behavior and cause withdrawal symptoms that can increase anxiety and lead to consuming more sugar. So pass on the sweets, and opt for healthy carbohydrates instead.
Can contribute to uneven blood sugar levels, which can lead to anxiety- and depression-like symptoms. Altering diet to eat regular meals and maintain blood glucose levels helps alleviate anxiety symptoms.
A diet high in fat can lower anxiety symptoms and behaviors, but the type of fat matters. Trans and saturated fats do not yield the same results. Healthy fats, like Omega-3 fatty acids, play an important role in lowering the risk of depression and alleviating symptoms as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. Flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans all contribute the Omega-3 fat ALA.
Another key part of an anti-inflammatory diet that can also play a role in the treatment of depression and anxiety, which is linked to an overall lower level of antioxidants. Fill up on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes to increase your antioxidant levels.
Can help support depression treatment and plays a role in alleviating anxiety symptoms. Eat whole grains, broccoli, legumes, and nuts to get zinc into your diet.
Known to quell anxiety, get magnesium from similar zinc sources: nuts, legumes, leafy greens, seeds, and whole grains
On a macro-level, eat protein with every meal to help release dopamine, feel satiated, and release norepinephrine.
Helps promote the production of serotonin, which plays a role in both anxiety and depression symptoms. Get tryptophan from chocolate, cheese, egg yolks, pineapple, bananas, oats, and tofu.
Keep a healthy gut-brain connection by feeding and maintaining your gut biome with foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.
Bottom Line for Diet and Depression and Anxiety
Eat mostly plants, choose healthy fats and carbs, make sure you get enough protein and stay hydrated. Avoid sugar and alcohol, which can increase inflammation and have unpleasant withdrawal effects. Also go easy on the caffeine, which can increase anxiety. Also, eat consistently to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Disclaimer: The information presented here, and on this site, is informative in nature and should never be construed or interpreted as a substitute for medical advice or an endorsement for any diet. No information on this site is intended to be instructional and should not be considered or used as a medical diagnosis or treatment. Each person is different, and the way your body responds to a particular diet may be significantly different from the way other people respond. You should speak with your physician or healthcare professional before starting any diet or exercise program.