There is no single answer to the treatment of depression. It varies in each and every sufferer, and for many, it’s a lifelong burden – but one that can be managed. Over the past decade, research has shown a strong link between diet and mood, with what we eat playing a substantial role in the progression of mental health issues. So what is the link between depression and diet? How does our food affect our mood?
Currently, one in every five Australians each year will experience a mental illness, and prescribed antidepressant use is on the incline. Dietary changes won’t necessarily ‘cure’ mental illness, but they can be a large part of an effective treatment plan. So if we want to start steering away from medications, what should we be eating to boost our mental health? Associate Professor Felice Jacka of Deakin University’s School of Medicine has found that, through her research, ‘Whole (unprocessed) diets higher in plant foods, healthy forms of protein and fats are consistently associated with better mental health outcomes. These diets are also high in fibre, which is essential for gut microbiota. We’re increasingly understanding that the gut is really the driver of health, including mental health, so keeping fibre intake high through the consumption of plant foods is very important.’ Things like seasonal vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, fish and lean meat can be greatly beneficial to your health and wellbeing.
Consider this: our relationship to food has changed from something that fuelled us and kept us alive to something we indulge in and enjoy whenever we please. Millions of years ago, back in the days of our early ancestors, our food intake was based on taste – namely, the five senses: sour, sweet, salty, savoury and bitter. As hunter/gatherers we weren’t privy to helpful hints like nutritional labels or ingredient lists, and had to rely on our base instincts to decide whether something was edible or not.
If it tasted sweet, savoury or salty, our brain took that as a signal that it was either full of carbohydrates, protein or sodium and other minerals, and as such, was okay to eat. If we tasted anything sour or bitter, we’d experience an aversive reaction (in fear of potential toxins) and would spit it out. This was a critical aspect of our evolution that played a big part in our survival.
But then, enter the Neolithic revolution, the growth of animal husbandry and agriculture, food security and the end of hunting/gathering, and our penchant for hedonism has well and truly been overindulged by our food choices. The rise of fast-food giants and the delivery of any type of food you can imagine has caused our ancient survival skills to be little more than a faded memory. We know what we like and we know we can get it, but the issue lies with what we’re getting.
The excess quantities of fats, salts and sugars that reside in a large majority of the foods we eat are leading to a whole new host of health issues like noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and even mental and personality disorders. Whereas having a diet high in legumes, fruits and vegetables that contain essential nutrients like water, fibre, ascorbic acid, tryptophan, magnesium and selenium has been linked to better overall moods.
Granted, unhealthy food is not the only cause of depression. Genetics and biology play a large part in the formation of depression and other mental disorders, as well as social, psychological and environmental factors. But if we can prevent even a handful of people from experiencing depression by changing something as simple as diet choices, it’s an avenue we should all be more than willing to explore.
Author: Ronsley Vaz
Ronsley is the founder & chief day dreamer at AMPLIFY. He is an author, speaker & serial entrepreneur.
He has a Masters’ degree in Software Engineering and an MBA in Psychology and Leadership. He is known as the creator of We Are Podcast – the first Podcasting Conference in the Southern Hemisphere, and the host of The Bond Appetit Podcast and Should I Start a Podcast. He has an audience of over 3 million in 133 countries.