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How Diet Affects Depression and Anxiety

During times of uncertainty, you may find yourself feeling a little more anxious, stressed out and even depressed. Whether you are experiencing financial or physical stressors (or both), you may gravitate toward carbohydrates and overly sweet foods as a source of comfort. While these so-called “comfort foods” may provide a quick fix and serve to help us feel immediately better, eating them in large amounts or for an extended duration of time may worsen your anxiety and further dampen your overall mood.

Whether you know it or not, there is a defined link between what you eat and how it affects not just your physical health, but your mental health as well. 

Better Diet, Better Mood

The good news is this: We can absolutely regulate what we choose to eat. It should come as no surprise that individuals who consume a diet high in fruit, whole grains, vegetables, fish, olive oil and low-fat dairy report overall less depression than those who consume a typical Western diet (which largely includes red meat, refined grains, sweets and high-fat dairy products). 

Research also shows that eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet — which generally consists of the aforementioned ingredients such as whole grains and vegetables — can aid in lowering overall depression.  

What You Should Eat

Certain foods are linked to a lower level of depression because they’re high in nutrients and antioxidants. A few examples to choose from include:

  • Varied seafood (crab, tuna, smelt)

  • Leafy greens (watercress, spinach, turnip greens)

  • Oysters and mussels

  • Lettuce (red, green, romaine)

  • Peppers (bell, serrano, jalapeno)

  • Cruciferous vegetables (such as cauliflower, kale or broccoli)

Limit The Bad

If you find yourself at home more often, either cooking for your family or even ordering takeout from local restaurants, it’s wise to limit dishes with refined grains, sweets, red meat and those high in fat content. Instead, choose options with whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread), fresh fruit, vegetables or seafood. 

If you’re in the mood for salmon, here’s a recipe you might opt for in your near future.

Chocolate Can Help

If you need a sugar fix, a small amount of dark chocolate can go a long way. It may lower your risk of depression and can even enhance cognitive function.

A word of caution, though: Consume it only as a treat and in moderation. If you eat too much chocolate, you may be adding unnecessary sugar to your healthy diet and negating its health benefits. 

We may not be perfect in all we eat and what we make a conscious choice not to eat.  It’s possible we won’t always have the ability or means to replicate a Mediterranean-style diet for each meal. Still, we can usually  look for ways to improve our eating habits, which also will serve to improve our physical, emotional and mental well-being.

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