Food first aid
Food alone will not cure depression, but eating the right foods can help ease symptoms and promote wellbeing. When you’re feeling low, it’s important to try to eat regular meals, to stabilise blood sugar and provide a constant source of energy.
Taking care with the food you eat is ultimately an act of self-love, and has cumulative effects.
Depression can have two distinct and completely opposite effects when it comes to food. For many sufferers it is common to experience a loss of appetite, while for others – in what is classified as ‘atypical depression’, the tendency is to comfort eat and crave sweet foods.
In both instances it’s equally important to have easy, comforting and nourishing foods on standby. Undereating and dieting is linked to increased risk of low moods.
Insufficient nutrient intake can exacerbate symptoms and is a form of self-harm. Overeating junk food can be equally detrimental. Both can lead to feelings of shame and guilt.
It is obviously much easier to make healthy choices when you feel energised and mentally well, but some days even the basics are a monumental challenge, so here are some suggestions for simple store cupboard basics to have on standby for days when you need really easy nourishment.
Almond butter with apples
A great source of slow-release energy to keep blood sugar stable, the brain needs a constant supply of glucose. Drops in blood sugar levels are associated with depression, anxiety and irritability. Apples are high in antioxidants and soluble fibre, and almonds contain magnesium, which reduces anxiety, and B vitamins for energy and serotonin synthesis.
Super-easy to digest, in eastern traditions oats are a grounding food and are said to quieten the mind. A warm, comforting bowl of porridge can be eaten at any time of day. Oats provide magnesium for energy and to aid relaxation, vitamin B1, chromium and zinc, deficiencies of which are all associated with depressive symptoms. Top with nuts and seeds for an added nutritional hit.
Nature’s fast food, soft boil or scramble eggs for a simple meal in minutes. Eggs are a source of vitamin D and B vitamins, both of which are vital for good brain health, and omega fats, which ensure healthy brain cell function. The protein they contain stabilises blood sugar.
Bananas have a very small amount of tryptophan, which is the amino acid precursor to serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter. They also contain vitamin B6, which is essential for serotonin production, and tyrosine, which, along with B6, provides energy. Keep chopped frozen bananas in the freezer ready to whiz into a nourishing smoothie with some oat or almond milk, and add some leafy greens for magnesium, or cacao powder (see below).
Good-quality dark chocolate contains compounds called polyphenols, which have been shown to positively affect anxiety and enhance calmness. It is also a source of magnesium. Blend cacao powder into a smoothie for a sweet treat, or simply eat a few squares of 70% or higher cocoa dark chocolate.
There are masses of research papers on the many health benefits of green tea. For depression the main benefits appear to be its role in balancing blood sugar, detoxing certain hormones, and L-theanine, which is studied for its potential ability to reduce mental and physical stress, improve cognition, and boost mood. Two cups a day has been shown to have a positive effect.
Made from fermented soybeans, stir into a cup of boiled water for a quick, nutritious soup packed with vitamins and minerals. Miso is known for easing digestive disorders – fermented foods support good gut bacteria, which are linked to reduced anxiety and hormonal balance. For an extra boost add some dried seaweed, such as wakame, which is packed with brain-boosting minerals.
A handful of nuts and seeds
Cashew nuts are rich in copper, magnesium and zinc, all needed for optimal brain function and energy production. Pumpkin seeds contain minerals and antioxidants that support blood sugar balance. Walnuts are a source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are linked to reduced depression, and also provide some tryptophan for serotonin and melatonin-synthesis chemicals that aid sleep and mood. Brazil nuts contain the mineral selenium, which is vital for thyroid function.
Keep a tin of these nutritional power houses in the cupboard and chuck in a pan to eat with some cheese and lettuce in a wrap for a five-minute burrito. They provide a source of slow-release energy, and magnesium and iron to support mood and energy. And they are good for digestive health.
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