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 ignored mental health 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.
Self help is also a valuable tool in between therapy sessions. Consider Acceptance and Commitment Therapy also known as ACT as a therapeutic tool such as this book…
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 practising 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.
Links between Depression and Nutrition
You may be aware that I’m not a fan of sugar and have discussed this in previous posts (see here). Increasing evidence is emerging which shows the effect of sugar 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 affect your behavior, it shows how addictive sugar is and how it affects the brain, which has an effect on your behaviour through what you decide to eat. It’s hard to avoid sugar since it’s added to sooooo many foods on our shelves and consequently no one thinks much of its dangers. It’s easy to ignore something that we don’t realise has much effect on our health.
What if I was to tell you it has a big impact on how you feel emotionally? Many have realised once starting their ketogenic journey their mental health improved when they quit sugar. One friend said she didn’t realize how it made her feel before until she found herself ‘moping around the house’ (her words). She felt unmotivated and felt down for days after she’d indulged in a piece of cake.
Personally I too have found it takes me a couple of days for the effects of sugar shift. 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 behaviours. But once you become aware of it, it’s hard to get any enjoyment out of sugar again. For myself and many others, quitting sugar permanently makes it easier on our mental health.
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.
When mood is affected by food and activity, then logic suggests that we can make intentional decisions to include foods that increase these neurotransmitters. 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.
For a digital copy of How Inflammation Affects Your Gut, click here.
Inflammation is caused by excessive omega 6 vs omega 3, and 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 – see below. Omega 3 plays a big part in fuelling 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 Improve Mood
For finding natural sources of probiotics be sure to include Greek yogurt, 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 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. Mood disorders can respond to the healthy fats contained in these fruits. 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
Even if you don’t want to follow a ketogenic diet, try to include food that have been demonstrated to improve how you feel. The link between depression and nutrition is real.
Heal your body with probiotics and essential fatty acids. Feed your body with real food and the nutrients you get from it. 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 the ketogenic diet can support mood disorders such as depression.
What foods have you found has improved your depression? Share your comments below.
27 thoughts on “Depression and Nutrition”
This is a really great article. I’ve been on and off the keto diet and am actually about to cycle back into it. I love how I feel when I’m eating in accordance with the keto diet. I have more energy, feel thinner and overall just feel better about myself.
That being said, I had no idea there was a correlation with depression treatment and Keto. My sister suffers from depression. After reading this, I May be able to convince her to do it with me since it will be easier for her if she has someone to do it with.
Thanks for this article. I totally agree that what we put into our bodies has the ability to affect a whole range of things, including our moods, in addition to our performance. As someone who has personally suffered and seen family members suffer from depression, I know firsthand how important a combination of medication, diet, exercise, and overall healthy habits are in contributing to recover. Great job thoroughly covering this topic that needs more discussion!
Hi Steve, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this vital topic. Well done for working through and being proactive in your own struggle with depression and sharing what worked for you. Thank you and take care.
I'm a huge fan of "put yourself first!" after years of taking care of others and neglecting myself to the point that it impacted my own health. As a personal trainer I like the Keto diet because it's not just some 'fad' diet. It actually supports the chemistry of your body and helps with a lot of functions.
I've never been huge on white sugar or processed foods (after my teens) but, because of cutting most of that out when I hit my 20's I know my limits if I have something I do't usually eat I just don't go overboard. I love the taste of coffee but, I could feel it destroying my brain function and rumbling my stomach so now I just add a bit of coffee flavor to my morning tea with some raw cacao and coconut sugar sometimes. I do that in a small portion as well.
I've lost so many people to suicide over the years and your hormonal balance is directly effected by what you are putting into your body. I boldly add, that depression meds also play a hand and, not always a good one.
Thank you for including the global help lines in this article. I'm also not saying to quit meds but, you can change your diet and speak with your doctor with every step you take to do some of the work that meds will never do.
Apologies for writing a book-sized comment but, this has been a huge topic of conversation between my family and friends as of late. Depression is something that comes in forms we don't even realize at times. I know it's rampant with my friends and family.
Talk to someone. Even if you don't feel depressed now...open a conversation. Surround yourself with people that are not scared to talk about real things that happen to all walks of life.
Take care of you! Blessings on everyone!
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate the effort you've taken to share your experiences around this topic so no apologies required :). It's okay to talk about and normalize this as depression is a very real issue to so many people and contributes to such debilitating moments in lives, that we need to learn more about how to manage it and share understanding and support to those who are struggling. We know that suicide is not the answer.
It's great to hear that you have found the value in following a keto diet and don't include sugar.
While medication can help, your point about it possibly making things worse is also accurate. I'm also a counsellor and many people report how some medications actually contribute to suicidal thoughts and I have heard it in many sessions. For those reading these comments, if this is noticed, it's vital to speak with your GP and change the medication to see if that changes those thoughts.
Strategies to manage depression are many and varied, so look at what's going in the body while also talk to a supportive person, consider medication or natural supplements and practice inner strategies to help bring yourself back to the present while nourishing your body.
My wife has severe mental health. One thing we know for sure is that she absolutely can not be off her medication. Things go really bad when that happens.
However this is a great article because we have never thought of how nutrition might affect mental health. I know we will be doing a lot more research and we will be starting right on this article.
Hi Dale, I'm sorry to hear that your wife experiences mental health issues. It's such a challenging thing to have to live with. Medication can make a huge difference for sure. Let me know what your thoughts are with your research on the effects of nutrition and if this has any impact on how your wife manages her own mental health. I wish you both wellness :)
This is a very amazing topic, and one of my favorite topics. Nutrition and having a healthy lifestyle is so important. Your nutrition affects every part fo your body. In this article depression was described, i definitely agree with that. Eat healthy so that you can stay healthy. More people should be educated on this topic.
Hi Jamiro, it's great to hear that you appreciate the value of nutrition on so many aspects of our body. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
Thanks for the post, it has a lot of essential information and you have done a good job of putting it together. I have always understand that eating a proper diet plays a major role in a lot of ways, but I never really gave it thought that what you eat can effect the way you think, although I'm not surprised, diet is a very important way of life. Thanks and I enjoyed the post.
Hi Neil, it's great that you've been able to see a different perspective on the idea of nutrition having an impact on our mental health. Thanks for sharing :)
It is crazy to think that just a few years ago people didn't much believe there was a link between what you ate and if you gained weight, let alone what you ate and how you felt in general. Sure, we had the standard pyramid of foods provided by the US Government, but today it has changed so much and there are so many differences in what people can and can't eat based on allergies etc.!
I was awed to find out that gluten allergies (even light ones) seem to account for a huge percentage of general health issues worldwide, even depression related issues. If you find that you're often depressed and you haven't tried cutting gluten out of your diet you should read the book Grain Brain and give it a shot. you might find that a gluten allergy has been causing your depression and other issues all along!
Being a type 2 diabetes, I can really confirm to the fact that food does affect the mood! and I do feel exactly like your friend when she is "moping around the house after having a piece of cake". That darn sugar! It is so addictive! It's almost like a drug.
One thing I did not know was that dairy also has a negative effect. I find myself drinking a tall glass of milk regularly also! However I do have in my diet a lot of good ingredients that you list there too. Is it a matter of balance? I know I should I eliminate the sugar completely but it's not easy!
I always knew that eating a well-balanced diet is an essential part of keeping fit and healthy. However, I never actually thought that there are certain foods we should eat and foods we need to avoid in order to improve our mood, because a low mood can lead to depression.
Sugar is bad I know. But caffeine? I don't understand how caffeine can contribute to low mood when a cup of coffee every morning is what keeps me energized throughout the day in the office. It's kind of my igniter that sets me in a very good mood.
Great article! I have heard of the saying: "we are what we eat", but your Depression and Nutrition article takes it to a whole new level. It is hard to imagine that many of us are messing negatively with our mental health daily. Probably, most are unaware that they are doing so, which includes myself. I have to say for sure I am aware and awake now!
Although I have seen the affects of depression with a few people, but not once did I think depression could possibly have some connection to their eating habits.
It's also hard to imagine too that if one is having depression based on the definition you mention in your article and add a poor diet or unknowingly add foods that promote depression this could very well have dangerous results.
Thanks so much for this relevant, educational, and insightful article!Diane
Hi! Thank you very much for this very useful post. And I do agree, nutrition has a lot to do with our mood. And specifically sugar is terrible for our wellbeing if abused.
I’m grateful for the foods you include here to improve mood. I recently have been preparing a Greek Baklava with cinnamon and walnuts. So yummy and at the same time so healthy!
Hi Henry, thanks heaps for your comment. Which specific foods are so important to learning what can improve our mood, and yes, cinnamon and walnuts are great inclusions. All the best.