Nutrition’s Role in Managing Depression

By LeeAnn Weintraub

Nutrition's Role in Managing DepressionWhile the holiday season is said to be bright, cheerful and merry, for people struggling with depression this can be the hardest time of the year.

Whether it is a case of “the blues” or clinical depression, seeking out support and implementing a daily routine of self-care, including balanced eating, can help you back onto the road of physical and emotional stability.

Experts point to various factors that make the holiday seasonal emotionally challenging.

First, December is a time for self-evaluation and reflection, so financial hardships, unraveling relationships and mounting piles of work can cause feelings of hopelessness.

Plus, there are the excess demands to make the holidays perfect while juggling stressful family dynamics.

People lacking social support, especially elderly people who may be isolated due to health problems and those who have recently lost a loved one, are at increased risk for depression. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health considers depression in those 65 years and older to be a significant public health concern.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 7 percent of U.S. adults and more than 10 percent of adolescents aged 12-17 have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

A leading cause of mental illness, depression not only impacts the brain, but is associated with many other physical health problems.

People who suffer from depression are four times more likely to experience a heart attack and, strikingly, are four times more likely to die within the following six months after having a heart attack compared with those who are not depressed.

Depressed adolescents are twice as likely to become obese compared with non-depressed youth. A study published recently in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that weight gain in depressed adolescents is mostly a result of negative body image.

Those who perceived themselves as overweight were twice as likely to be obese one year later.

While seeking professional help is a key part to treating depression, healthful eating and nutrition can play a useful role in getting better and hopefully finding some holiday joy.

Here are some tips to get started on yourself or maybe someone you know:

  • Seek balance when enjoying holiday comfort foods. Keep portion control in mind when it comes to higher calorie holiday foods so you can eat your favorites without feeling guilty or deprived.
  • Choose nonalcoholic beverages. Remember that alcohol is a depressant, so steering away from the booze at holiday gatherings can help keep your mood more stable.
  • Low vitamin D levels are linked to depression. Since a primary source of vitamin D is from sunlight exposure, it can be extra challenging to get adequate vitamin D during winter months. Go outdoors to increase your daily dose of vitamin D.
  • Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats from such foods as salmon, walnuts, flax seeds and extra virgin olive oil help reduce inflammation and support brain function, including memory and mood.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Including a balanced morning meal with protein and fiber, such as eggs and whole grain toast, can aid with mood, memory and energy levels.

Make whole foods your base. Eating plenty of nutrient-dense whole foods will help ensure you are taking in the important nutrients needed to make neurotransmitters including amino acids, vitamins, such as vitamin B12 and folic acid, and minerals, such as zinc and iron.

LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. LeeAnn can be reached at [email protected].


Related Online CEU Courses:

Nutrition in Mental Health is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that discusses how good nutrition impacts a person’s mental health and well being.

Depression is a 1-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that provides an overview to the various forms of depression, including signs and symptoms, co-existing conditions, causes, gender and age differences, and diagnosis and treatment options.

Professional Development Resources is approved to offer online continuing education (CE/CEU) courses by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners.