Beat the Winter Blues

Foods that fight depression

Depression is characterised by feelings of sadness most of the time, with a general loss of interest in usual activities like going out with friends.  They may also feel overwhelmed or frustrated, fatigued and run down, and turn to alcohol or drugs to cope.  Sleeping problems and a loss of appetite are also symptoms.

The causes of depression are publicised as being an imbalance of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that manages brain function, appetite, sleep and mood.  Pharmaceutical companies have made medications to treat this imbalance but the side effects include sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, weight gain, restlessness and anxiety.  It’s almost as if you’re replacing one imbalance with another!

What the doctors and drug companies fail to take into account is that many of the symptoms of depression are linked to poor nutrition.  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause mood swings, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, the inability to concentrate, anxiety and depression!  By changing your diet to include foods that regulate brain chemistry, you are taking steps against depression and towards a happier, healthier you!

Fatty Fish

The active ingredient in fatty fish like anchovies, salmon, sardines and tuna is omega-3 fatty acids and there have been many studies on the link between depression and insufficient omega-3s.  In 2002, a study showed that just one gram of fish oil daily resulted in a 50% decrease in symptoms of depression, while another study shows that societies that eat very little omega-3 fatty acids have higher incidences of depression than societies that eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids have other health benefits, such as the prevention of cardiovascular disease and improvement of brain function.  Other sources of omega-3s are walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed and dark green leafy vegetables.

Whole Grains

Brown rice and oats are particularly good in providing relief from depression.  Both contain B vitamins and folic acid, and these vitamins are integral in a variety of bodily functions, such as nerve function, energy production, metabolism, synthesis of neurotransmitters, and the production of red blood cells.  Folic acid, or folate, is a B-complex vitamin that has been popularised as a critical supplement during pregnancy to prevent birth defects, but it also plays a key role in nervous system support by maintaining a balance in neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

Whole grains also have a low glycemic index for slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream, thus preventing sugar highs and mood swings.  Studies have also shown that carbohydrates raise serotonin levels in the body and act like a natural stress reliever, so a carbohydrate craving could indicate low serotonin levels.

Green leafy vegetables

There is a reason why your mother always told you to eat your greens – because they’re good for you!  Vegetables like spinach, kale and cabbage are packed with vitamins and minerals, especially the ones that fight depression.

One of those vitamins is vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that has significant interactions with several key vitamins and minerals in the body.  It is involved in the production of norepinephrine, a substance that acts as a neurotransmitter and a hormone and plays an important role in mood regulation.  Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron, which is essential to increased energy levels.

Other sources of vitamin C include red capsicum, oranges, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Chicken

This popular poultry is one of the highest sources of tryptophan, an amino acid that increases serotonin levels in the brain to regulate appetite, sleeping patterns, relaxation and mood.

Protein- rich foods like chicken and turkey are also rich in tyrosine, another amino acid that increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain.  These neurotransmitters help you feel more alert and make concentrating much easier.

Cacao

Happiness by chocolate!  Cacao is an ingredient of chocolate and has many nutritional benefits in its raw form.  Apart from being high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, it also contains theobromine, which is a mild stimulate that can relieve stress and depression.  It stimulates the production of anandamide, a neurotransmitter that creates blissful sensations of happiness.  No wonder cacao was such a valuable commodity to the ancient Aztecs.

Raw cacao from your health food store is the best choice as milk chocolate from the supermarket is laden with sugar, which can make your blood sugar levels very unstable and cause terrible mood swings.

If you suffer from depression, there are other steps you can take to provide relief.  Avoid consuming too much caffeine and foods that are high in fat and sugar, get plenty of sunshine and participate in regular exercise to lift your mood.  Find support in your friends and family and look to build a trusting and compassionate relationship with your doctor.

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