Depression and Nutrition – How They are Connected
Are you done with feeling at the mercy of your moods? Allow me to explore with you the possibility of improving how you feel with nutrition. Depression or mental health will likely affect 1 in 5 within the population. This might be you or someone you know. For some people they live with this challenging mental health state for a large chunk of their lives. It can be alleviated with medication, however if you prefer a natural approach to working on mental health and wellness then consider the ketogenic diet for your nutritional needs and mental health management. NB Do not stop taking prescribed medication without discussing with your health practitioner.
Depression and Anxiety treatment can be supported and alleviated through conscious nutritional choices among a variety of other strategies, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on nutrition.
What is Depression?
Commonly referred to as the black dog of our minds. It is the voice that tells you incessant negativity and constantly puts you down. It’s the internal critic who nags at you telling you you’re no good, you’ll never get there, what’s the point of even trying etc etc.
We all have a negative self critic, but when you are going through a depressive episode or difficult period in your life, your resilience is at a low so it’s harder for you to climb back up the mountain which at times seems all too high. It can also affect your motivation to participate in your usual everyday activities, and it can also affect your relationships.
Many people however question if it’s real, but when you experience it first hand, you know it’s very real. Sadly if it is ignored or not worked on, it can wreak havoc on a person’s everyday activities. It can have devastating effects for those who end their life when they get so low that they give up on themselves. For those of you struggling at this point, please get help. It might not feel like it will make a difference, but over time, having someone who listens to you, supports you and gives you a safe space to share your inner thoughts, these feelings can lift. Even if it’s just a little bit to start that would be better than before.
If you are at risk of ending your life, please give your local helpline a call or see your GP/therapist/psychologist. I’ll include a list of numbers at the end of this post.
So what has depression got to do with going keto? Well actually a lot. There’s increasing evidence which points to the benefits of practicing a low carb high fat diet to help support mental health and how you feel emotionally. Let’s take a look at how this might work.
Effects of Certain Foods
You may be aware that I’m not a fan of sugar and have discussed this in previous posts (see here), but more and more evidence is emerging which shows how sugar has an effect on the receptors in our brain, much like other drugs including heroin and methamphetamine. Although there are also differences in terms of how these substances effect your behaviour, it does show how addictive sugar is and how it affects the brain, which has an effect on your behaviour through what you decide to eat. As it’s so readily available and has been added to sooooo many foods on our shelves, it’s pretty hard to avoid, so no one thinks much of it’s dangers. It’s easy to ignore something that we don’t think has much effect on our health.
What if I was to tell you it has a big impact on how you feel emotionally? I know many people who after starting their ketogenic journey realized just how much their mental health and emotions were affected when they have indulged in a small sugary treat. One of my friends said she didn’t realize how it made her feel before, until she found herself ‘moping around the house’ (her words), being really unmotivated and felt down for a couple of days after she’d indulged in a piece of family cake.
Personally I too have found it takes me a couple of days for the effects of having sugar go away. My anxiety comes back and I feel jittery and yuck for about 2 days. It’s a subtle feeling for some, for others they notice a change in their everyday behaviors. But once you become aware of it, it’s hard to get any enjoyment out of sugar again. For myself and many others, it’s made it easier for me to quit sugar permanently.
Caffeine, sugar, gluten and dairy can all contribute to low mood and have an effect on emotions. These also contribute to inflammation which also leads to depression, so it’s best to avoid or minimise them in your diet.
Things to Consider
The brain requires neurotransmitters which help with regulating our moods. These include serotonin, dopamine, gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), oxytocin and endorphins. If we are affected by low moods, and if these neurotransmitters can be increased through food and other strategies, it make sense then to make a conscious decision and effort to give this a go. I’ve listed a few activities that you might like to try here.
Inflammation also plays a significant role in mental health and psychological disorders including depression. What this means is that when our bodies are experiencing inflammatory markers, then it can and has been shown to affect mood.
Inflammation is caused by too much omega 6 vs omega 3, as well as too much processed foods compared with real food. When our bodies aren’t getting the right nutrients that help our organs respond and work properly, over time it leads to inflammation. This has been shown to affect the brain where our emotions are, as well as how our brain works. Consequently affecting our mental health too. To help reduce this inflammation, it’s vital to nourish our body and brain with the right natural ingredients. This are listed below. Omega 3 plays a big part in fueling our brain with the essential fatty acids. They are called essential for a reason. For extra reading pop over here to explore the value of healthy fats.
Researchers have also found a connection between healthy gut flora and mental health (see here and here). When our small and large intestines have a good balance of good and bad bacteria, this helps our body absorb the nutrients we put in and therefore give it the optimum chance for good health, including reducing inflammation which can contribute to depression. Ways to improve your gut health is to include probiotic foods into your daily routine. If you find this difficult, then be sure to take a daily probiotic to help with fighting the bad bacteria.
Foods to Help Improve Mood
For finding natural sources of probiotics be sure to include Greek yoghurt, and various cheeses that contain probiotics. These include cottage cheese, gouda, mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Also consider having Kombucha as this also contains lots of healthy good bacteria to help promote better gut flora and boost the immune system to help reduce inflammation as well as support to improve mood.
Here’s a list of foods to consider including in your meals:
- Eat plants and real food while cutting out processed, refined foods.
- Leafy greens such as Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard. If you find these difficult to eat (as some people do), here’s an organic powdered supplement called Deep Green which can give you an easier option. It’s organic, freeze-dried, vegan and gluten free.
- Mushrooms and berries such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Seeds including sunflower seeds and pepita (pumpkin) seeds.
- Walnuts– they are even shaped like a brain, to remind you of their helpfulness for your brain. Their high omega 3 content is what contributes to their powerful brain helping ability – which can have a big influence on reducing inflammation while improving mood.
- Almonds as they contain magnesium and omega 3.
- Avocado – due to their high levels of monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, it makes for a very welcoming addition to your diet. The health fat contained in these fruits has been shown to help with mood disorders. It also contains tryptophan and folate as well as stress-relieving vitamin B’s.
- Eggs as they contain all nutritional requirements to support new life.
- Meat including chicken, beef and fish as they contain B12.
- Herbs such as Turmeric otherwise known as Curcumin
So even if you don’t want to follow a ketogenic diet, why not start eating foods that have been shown to improve how you feel. Heal your body with probiotics and essential fatty acids, feed your body with real food and the nutrients you get from it, and nourish your brain.
While nutritiously eating your way to feeling good, be sure to practice other strategies to work through the challenges of mental health. Pop over to my post on Boosting Happy Hormones for ideas. Above all –
Put Yourself First – Make Your Mental Health a Priority
Here’s a list of International Helplines if you are struggling to keep yourself safe.
Know that you are valuable and worth it.
Research Articles and Resources
Here’s a list of articles for you to explore and decide for yourself if there may be anything to be said for the value of the ketogenic diet to support mood disorders such as depression.
Let me know in the comments below if you have found following any particular strategies with nutrition that has helped you manage depression.