“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This long held principle, first uttered by Hippocrates, is still true today. While many people find benefits and much needed help from what we in the West may consider ‘traditional’ medicine, it’s important to recognize the power of food. After all, good will only come out after good is put in – another simple principle just as true today as ever.
According to Mental Health America, depression is a problem millions of Americans face – 21 million, as a matter of a fact – leading to issues at home, in the work place, and with relationships. Not only is this a tragic situation for those afflicted with depression, but it also affects the country at large, with costs from lost productivity and medical expenses ranging around $83 billion annually.
Naturally, we owe it to ourselves and our fellow Americans (indeed, all people) to work against this trend. One major factor to focus on is diet. Food has a major effect on the mind, namely with the balance of chemical and blood sugar, both of which are known to influence mood. That said, let’s take a look at four food groups that, if consumed regularly and in their whole state, can help combat and prevent depression.
Number 1. Foods HIGH in B Vitamins – Fresh Fruits, Veggies, and More
According to both Oregon State University and the University of Maryland, B vitamins play a major role is controlling mood.* Vitamin B6, B9, and B12 deficiencies have been found to be linked to symptoms of depression, suggesting that getting enough of these vitamins may be a good first place to look. What makes these so important? For starters, B6 (in its principal coenzyme form, pyridoxal 5′-phosphate or PLP) is a “key enzyme in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine,” both of which help control and dictate mood. Both B12 and B9 (or folate) are also important as they ” are required for the synthesis of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a methyl group donor essential for the metabolism of neurotransmitters whose bioavailability has been related to depression.”
That being said, be conscious when it comes to getting enough B vitamins. Lucky for us, they are spread out in many different foods, so having a diverse diet helps ensure you’re getting enough of the good stuff. Some great sources include bananas (B6), clams or mussels (B12), and spinach and turnip greens (folate).
Number 2. Whole Grains – Whole Wheat, Brown Rice
Not only will the added carbohydrates ensure you aren’t deficient (experts suggest at least 45-60 percent of your calories via macronutrients to come from carbohydrates), but the added fiber in your diet will help you get the most from your food. These foods are packed with nutritional value, including healthy sources of vitamins and amino acids. Make it a note to eat more complex carbohydrates, which are known to “raise the body’s levels of tryptophan, the main amino acid needed to make the neurotransmitter serotonin.” Eating plenty of brown rice is a great way to get these benefits, as well as some of those extra B vitamins mentioned above.
Number 3. Omegas – Salmon, Flax Seed
Heading back to the University of Maryland for information, we’ve also discovered that omegas may be a ticket to better mental health as well. As noted, they have found that taking omega supplements in addition to antidepressants yielded far better results. It hasn’t been determined, though, whether or not taking omegas alone will have any effect on depression or bipolar disorders.
If you’re looking to increase your intake of omegas, go for salmon, flax seed, and walnuts. Eating more of these foods will certainly help your overall health, too.
Number 4. Whole Dark Leafy Greens, Vegetables, Fruits
Finally, eating plenty of dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits is a great way to get a holistic source of nutrition, including many of the vitamins already discussed. What this suggestion really speaks to is increasing the amount of whole foods you eat (organic, fresh) and less processed foods with little nutritional value. As Medical News Today has pointed out, after reviewing a recent study, “an overall healthy “whole food” diet comprising a high proportion of fruits, vegetables and fish, protected middle aged people against depression compared to a processed food diet containing a high proportion of high fat dairy food, processed meat, fried food, refined grains and sugar-laden desserts.”
All things considered, it looks like Hippocrates was really onto something when he said food was medicine. The principle may be simple, but it is certainly true.