After the holidays when the dreary days and nights of winter set in, it’s easy to feel a little down in the dumps. The anticipation of holiday events and the chance to be with friends and family has passed and often our expectations for the season didn’t match the reality. Now it’s time to get back to the routine. So what do we do when “winter blues” strike? We eat. We hunker down, hit the couch and reach for the comfort foods that made us feel good when we were kids – mac and cheese, chocolate chip cookies, mashed potatoes and gravy, ice cream, burgers and French fries. The only problem is, these foods might make us feel even more depressed.
Groundbreaking research demonstrates for the first time that people with moderate to severe depression can improve their mood by eating a healthier diet.
It turns out a study completed in 2017 at Deakin University in Australia, found that there is a direct connection between food and our mood and that eating a healthier diet, lower in the salty, fatty, sweet and starchy foods we crave, can help reduce depression!
what we know about diet and depression
1. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.
2. A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods is associated with a decreased risk of depression.
what to eat to improve your mood
The Australian team of researchers chose what they called a modified Mediterranean diet (or “ModiMed” diet) that focused on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat/unsweetened dairy, raw unsalted nuts, lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and olive oil. It avoided sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast food and processed meat (sorry, bacon lovers). It also recommends a limit of two sugar-sweetened beverages per week and no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, preferably red wine.
why this particular diet?
According to Georgia Ede, M.D., author of a 2017 article in Psychology Today concerning the study, there are a number of reasons the ModiMed diet is healthier than the average diet. She explains:
• It is extremely low in refined carbohydrates (sugar, flour, refined cereals, etc). These non-foods put your blood sugar, insulin, hormones, and neurotransmitters on a dangerous invisible roller coaster. This destabilizes mood and increases risk for insulin resistance, which causes brain damage over time.
• It contains plenty of natural fat and cholesterol, which the brain needs to function properly.
• It is low in processed oils from seeds such as cottonseed, safflower and corn. These industrially-refined oils are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which tilt the brain towards inflammation and away from healing.
• It contains animal sources of protein, which are rich in key brain nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B 12. Meat, seafood and poultry are free of anti-nutrients, which interfere with protein and mineral absorption.
• It is based primarily on whole foods, which humans are well-adapted to eating.
Dr. Ede notes that “the most powerful way to fundamentally change your brain chemistry is through food, because that’s where the brain chemicals come from in the first place!”
While eating healthier food can have a positive impact on improving mood, even lessening depression in many cases, a good diet alone cannot take the place of medical advice if an extended period of sadness that doesn’t lift after a few weeks. Anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of depression such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness and emptiness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and insomnia, just to name a few, should see their physician to determine a diagnosis and discuss a course of treatment that may include diet, medications, therapy and other interventions. However, adopting a healthy diet, like the ModiMed diet can’t hurt. There are no co-pays, no side effects and it is good for the whole body, not just the brain.