CNN

How your next meal could help fight depression and stress

Mar 20, 2018, 3:09 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 3:59 pm
Do you find that food deeply affects your mood? Science is beginning to back up such gut feelings t...
Do you find that food deeply affects your mood? Science is beginning to back up such gut feelings that whole, healthy foods provide micronutrients that help the brain better cope with stress.

(CNN) — Do you find that food deeply affects your mood? Science is beginning to back up such gut feelings.

The link between poor diet and mood disorders has been long known, but what has been less clear is the direction of causality. When we’re depressed, we tend to reach for lower-quality comfort foods, but can more comfort foods contribute to depression? And if we’re depressed, can improving our diets improve our symptoms?

New research is helping to pave the way toward greater clarity. One small but important trial was recently published from Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre (the center’s very name a testament this burgeoning line of research). It involved men and women who were taking antidepressants and/or were in regular psychotherapy.

All of the 67 subjects had unhealthy diets at the start, with low intakes of fruits and vegetables, little daily dietary fiber and lots of sweets, processed meats and salty snacks. Half of the subjects were then placed on a healthy diet focusing on extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish and grass-fed beef. The other half continued eating their usual diets and were required to attend social support sessions.

Before and after the three-month study, the subjects’ symptoms were graded on a common depression scale. After three months of healthier eating, those in the intervention group saw their scores improve on average by about 11 points. Thirty-two percent had achieved scores so low that they no longer met criteria for depression. Meanwhile, people in the social support group with no dietary intervention improved by only about 4 points; only 8% achieved remission.

What this early research demonstrates is that even for patients with major depression, food may be a powerful antidepressant. And with no negative side effects.

One way a healthier diet may improve one’s mood is through our bodies’ immune systems. The same process by which we respond to acute injuries or threats also puts out fires initiated by our diets and lifestyles. That’s why poor diet can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. These sorts of illnesses now account for 60% of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Though the mechanisms linking inflammation to depression are just beginning to be understood, other studies involving compounds with a known anti-inflammatory effect, such as curcumin (a component of the spice turmeric), have also demonstrated some efficacy in reducing symptoms. Though the studies are small and warrant further research, they strengthen the notion that depression may be the brain’s response to inflammation in the body, at least for some.

Whole, healthy foods also provide micronutrients that help the brain better cope with daily stress. Today, with 90% of Americans deficient in at least one vitamin or mineral, it has left our brains weaponless as it attempts to repair from the damage. Case in point: Nearly 50% of Americans don’t consume enough magnesium, a mineral involved in DNA repair. And yet it is easily found in foods such as almonds, spinach and avocado.

Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, eggs and even properly raised red meat. A large study found that women who consumed less than three to four servings of red meat per week were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder. The study was performed in Australia, where more of their meat comes from grass-fed cows, a caveat the researchers call out as noteworthy.

What foods should we avoid consuming to maintain a healthy, balanced mood? Sugar and highly refined, processed oils, which include canola, corn and soybean oil (the use of which has skyrocketed up to 1,000% over the past century). These foods have been linked to mental health issues including depression, and both now saturate our food supply, constituting in large part the ultra-processed foods that now make up 60% of our caloric intake. These foods, when consumed chronically, drive inflammation and deplete our bodies’ protective resources, compounding the damage done.

Although the science regarding diet and mood has a long way to go before being settled, there’s little reason to wait given that switching to a healthier diet may help and is definitively better for your overall health. Research suggests that a better diet may even be easier on your wallet.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

CNN

Bodycam video released by authorities shows the good Samaritan trying to help the man on the tracks...
Tavleen Tarrant, CNN

Good Samaritan, NYPD officers rescue man from subway tracks moments before train arrives

A good Samaritan, who was at the right place at the right time, and a team of New York City officers who rushed on scene rescued a man who fell on the subway tracks just seconds before an incoming train arrived, police said.
1 day ago
Police officers on the scene at the Primo Bitti school on November 25. (Kadija Fernandes/AFP/Getty ...
Duarte Mendonca, CNN

At least 3 people killed, 11 others injured in Brazil school shootings

At least three people were killed and 11 others injured Friday after a gunman opened fire at two schools in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo, according to local authorities.
1 day ago
"White Christmas" is a movie that has a lot of behind-the-scenes lore. (Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstoc...
AJ Willingham, CNN

The secrets behind your favorite Christmas movie classics

Watching Christmas movies is a whole tradition unto itself. Get to know some of the fascinating stories behind the stories so you can watch your old favorites with fresh eyes.
1 day ago
On the sixth day of the Artemis I mission, Orion's optical navigation camera captured black-and-whi...
Amir Vera, CNN

NASA’s Orion spacecraft snaps a selfie on its journey beyond the far side of the moon

NASA released a selfie taken by the Orion capsule and close-up photos of the moon's crater-marked landscape as the spacecraft continues on the Artemis 1 mission.
1 day ago
Perry Payson wins the National Dog Show with 3-year-old Winston, a French Bulldog. (Mark Makela/Get...
Leah Asmelash, CNN

French Bulldog wins top prize at National Dog Show

Winston the French Bulldog won Best in Show, the top spot, at this year's 21st Annual National Dog Show.
2 days ago
Don't blame the turkey for your post-meal sleepiness, experts say. (Adobe Stock)...
Sandee LaMotte, CNN

Don’t blame the turkey. Here’s what experts say is really behind your food coma

A mainstay on the dinner table at this time of year, turkey contains tryptophan, which is widely believed to be responsible for the uncontrollable yawns and sudden snoozes common after huge family feasts.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
How your next meal could help fight depression and stress