How many times have you reached for food after a very stressful day that’s left you feeling depressed and empty? Stress triggers the production of cortisol, a hormone that causes food cravings. Research has shown that when we’re depressed, we often reach for comfort foods, mostly those based on sugar and carbs.
According to a study published in the journal of Psychological Science, diet has a great impact on mental health. But even though comfort food does improve your mood, it is just a temporary reliever whose effect quickly wears off, letting you spin back into depression.
Moreover, if the consumption of comfort foods with the purpose to relieve depression symptoms becomes a regular practice, you might end up with a few surplus pounds, excess abdominal fat, and an increased risk of diseases like diabetes.
The good news is there are truly nutritious superfoods that not only calm and relax you in the longer term, but also boost energy levels and improve cognitive functions. Here are the most powerful natural weapons against depression.
Avocado is considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and for a good reason. With its high levels of tryptophan, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as stress-relieving B vitamins, the ‘alligator pear’ regulates the brain’s neurotransmitters and helps it run smoothly. Mash and add an avocado into your pancake recipes (sweetened with raw honey) for a creamy delight that will surely out a smile on your face.
Everyday stress wears us down and increases the number of free radicals that can cause various diseases, including depression. Berries (especially blueberries) are packed with powerful antioxidants like polyphenol and anthocyanin that fight these harmful free radicals. In addition, berries contain high levels of vitamin C, which is very efficient in combating stress. For a quick anti-stress therapy, start your day with a berry smoothie.
Chocolate is one of the most popular anti-depressant foods (have you ever heard the term “emotional chocoholics”?) Luckily, its ability to fight depression is undisputed. Of course, there is a huge difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Due to its high levels of cocoa, the latter is very rich in antioxidants but it also enhances the production of good-mood hormones like serotonin and relaxes the blood vessels. You can include dark chocolate in any of your dessert recipes but be careful – it is still high in calories so make sure to consume in moderation.
In its 2016 Food Report, Google put turmeric on the top of the ‘most searched foods’ list, naming it the ultimate functional food. This means that, besides its primary function – adding flavor to foods, this magical spice offers a wide variety of health benefits. According to Dr. Weil “Its active constituent, curcumin, has been found to enhance nerve growth in the frontal cortex and hippocampal areas of the brain”, which makes turmeric a potent natural antidepressant without the unwanted side effects caused by pharmaceutical products.
Low-fat dairy products contain high amounts of protein, vitamin D, and calcium which help you feel relaxed by reducing the blood pressure. In addition, the potassium content helps alleviate muscle spasms. Nutrition experts confirm that a glass of warm milk before going to bed can help relieve insomnia and anxiety.
Asparagus stalks are very rich in folic acid, a nutrient linked to good mood. This vegetable is very easy to include in every type of dish: steam it and add it to your salads, grill it and serve it alongside meat, or sauté it and make it a part of your breakfast omelet.
All nuts are tasty, crunchy, and, most importantly, healthy. But when it comes to reducing depression symptoms, almonds, cashews, and walnuts lead the way.
Almonds are packed with immunity-boosting vitamins B and E, which is especially important during stressful periods.
Cashews are important for its high level of zinc. Low levels of zinc have been linked to depression and anxiety. And since our bodies cannot store zinc, we have to find a way to import it.
Walnuts are considered one of the richest natural omega-3 sources and, as mentioned before, these fatty acids are crucial for proper brain and neurotransmitter function, as well as alleviation of depression symptoms.
- Fatty fish
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, bluefish, and tuna is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Besides helping with depression, the consumption of fatty fish improves the blood flow and reduces inflammation, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.
- Leafy greens
Dark leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, and kale are without a doubt the healthiest and most nutrient-dense foods on on the planet. In connection to mental disorders, their crucial feature is the ability to fight brain inflammation, since it may lead to depression. In addition, leafy greens are high in magnesium, a mineral responsible for regulating the production of cortisol. Add them fresh into your salads, include them into soups, or sauté and top them with a dollop of sour cream.
Besides containing high levels of antioxidants, green tea is rich in theanine, an amino acid that alleviates stress, but also boosts cognitive functions and reduces the risk of cancer.
Another type of tea known for its soothing properties is chamomile tea. A cup of warm chamomile tea before bed will calm you and ensure you have a good night sleep.