In this country it is estimated that 15 million Americans suffer from depression. I had a bout with it myself at one point in my life, and these days I don’t have to go far to meet others who have struggled or are now struggling with depression.
The path to wellness and vitality is through good eating.
In my health coaching practice I have some clients whom I end up calling poster children, because they work hard to change their diet and lifestyle, and it pays off – big time! One woman that I’m thinking of, I’ll call her Pam, in her mid- sixties, came from a family where there were many varieties of mental illness around her in her formative years. Many people in her family were troubled and she herself had to take medication every year during the winter months.
The western diet of heavily processed, denatured foods has been widely linked to rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as several other chronic conditions. That same diet is also linked to poor memory function, hyperactive immune response, and inflammation, all of which affect symptoms of depression.
The Digestive System is in Close Contact with the Brain
There is a fabulous communication system in our body. Our digestive system, for example, knows when we are under stress. Whether we’re “too nervous to eat,” or have “butterflies” in the stomach, or upset bowels before a performance or athletic contest, it’s clear that our thoughts impact digestive functions. More recently, it has also become clear that our digestive functions impact our mental health, or the lack of it.
Back to the Standard American Diet (SAD). It is causing an epidemic of poor digestion. Gas, bloating, pain or exhaustion after meals is commonplace. Even worse, diagnoses of bowel disease like colitis, IBS, and Chron’s are rising worldwide, especially among people age 15 and younger. These dysfunctions in the gut send messages of the ill state of affairs to the brain, which can then result in depression.
Here are 5 Rules for Eating Away Your Depression
1. Avoid Trigger Foods
The best diet is one in which a wide variety foods are eaten in as close to their natural state as possible. The further a food is from its natural state, the more likely it is to trigger an inflammatory response in the gut.
Packaged items on the grocers’ shelves are highly processed and so are likely to be “trigger foods.“ Boxed meals, bottled sauces, bagged chips and crackers, and processed vegetable oils contain additives that can wreak havoc on the gut lining and have been linked to systemic inflammation. You can read more about inflammation right here.
People who are depressed often report symptoms of inflammation such as fatigue, brain fog, flat mood, PMS, and constipation. To heal inflammation in the body, eliminate foods that are known to be inflammatory triggers, such as refined sugars, dairy, gluten, grains, (especially the processed ones), soy, GMOS, coffee, and alcohol.
2. Eat Organic Foods
If purging your pantry of trigger foods can leave you wondering about what, exactly you CAN eat, the answer is really quite simple: real, organic, food! More and more people are demanding clean food, which is causing the price to get it to lower. Non-organic foods contain higher-than-ever levels of pervasive pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate. These are known to cause endocrine disruption, damage DNA, and even cause birth defects. Our magnificent bodies were never meant to have to deal with them, and they are the cause of lots of trouble.
A good whole foods-based, organic diet, you get the healthiest and best-tasting foods, the long-term health of humanity, and the sustainability of the planet.
3. Guard Against Deficiencies
Many people who are clinically obese are actually malnourished. Deficiencies in micronutrients are increasingly appearing, as the soil becomes more depleted by pesticides and herbicides. Even though eating a high-organic diet helps tremendously, less-than-optimal soil isn’t the only problem. It’s possible to have adequate nutrition and still be affected by smoking, pharmaceuticals, and environmental toxins. Some of the nutrients which are frequently found to be lacking are essential to mood and energy regulation. They include
- B-12 – shown to be among the most useful, safe, and effective treatments for many psychiatric conditions
- Magnesium – a very beneficial mineral which provides relief from ailments such as PMS, poor thyroid function, and depression Zinc – plays an important role in immune system support, sexual health, and basic cellular repair.- Essential Fatty Acids – critical for optimal mental health. They build new brain tissue, cushion and protect neural pathways, and promote cellular regeneration. Estimates are that 70% of Americans may be deficient. These vital nutrients cannot be manufactured by the human body, so it’s important to include plenty of dark leafy greens, sprouted nuts and seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, oily fish, and pastured eggs.
4. Keep Your Microbiome Healthy
The human microbiome is the internal community of living microorganisms that supports healthy digestion and immune system response, among other useful functions. These trillions of cells continually report to the brain (it’s that communication thing again) on the state of the body.
The fat-paced modern American lifestyle has an immense negative impact on our inner ecology. Rapid urbanization, massive doses of environmental toxins, and denatured, processed foods place an enormous burden on the gut, while the overuse of antibiotics undermines beneficial bacteria that are essential to maintain this delicate internal balance. When the microbiome is compromised, gut contents pass through the lining of the gut wall into the bloodstream, (leaky gut) driving and often presenting as symptoms of mental illness.
Again, emphasizing an organic diet will do much to restore a damaged microbiome. One or two teaspoons per day of fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, miso, or kimchi, as well as pro-biotic supplements are powerful safeguards against the ravages of our modern age.
5. Eat Consciously
Eating at your desk while processing the never-ending email stream, inhaling breakfast on the run while standing at the kitchen counter, and pushing our systems late into the night fueled by sugar and coffee deny our bodies the experience of nourishment. No wonder we have digestive issues!
It’s a far better plan to take a minute before each meal to take in your food: observe the colors, savor the aroma, and appreciate the fact that it is the food which fuels your body to do all the good work in the world that you wish to do. If your mouth is watering – great! Saliva contains powerful enzymes that pre-digest food. Chewing slowly and thoroughly will ensure that you receive the optimum benefits of these powerful digestive juices.
Finally, express some gratitude for what you are about to consume. The food we eat takes quite a journey from farm to table, and more often than not requires the labor and love of many peoples. It’s good to acknowledge that, as well as the fact that you and others each have a role in the lifecycle of your food. In this way, you will ensure receiving the full range of nourishment that food can provide.
Oh, and Pam, that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? After several months of very dedicated work on her part in my coaching program, she said to me one day, “Jane, this is the first winter in about 15 that I haven’t had to take depression medication. I also haven’t had the chronic sinusitis that I have to take antibiotics for every year.” I still get goosebumpy with that sort of story.
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
–Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine