Generations of moms and grandmothers have gone to their gardens and cupboards to heal ailments of all kinds. Herbs, medicinal recipes (including chicken soup), and vegetables are gaining the attention of doctors and scientists, who rely on controlled studies rather than anecdotal evidence to prove what works in the body reliably and safely. Today, just as throughout history, in every culture, there are foods that can be used as medicine, but can what you eat affect your mental health as well? Is it possible to treat things like anxiety and depression with food?
Research is showing the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet may help in two ways. The former focuses on healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil. Countries where these foods make up most of the daily diet may use meals that vary but do find long life and health in what looks like a sensible, well-rounded lifestyle. DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was designed in the 1990s through several projects funded by the United States National Institute of Health to combat hypertension (high blood pressure) and promote heart health. Limiting sodium intake to about 1500mg a day and removing products like sugar are recommended. Including the best foods for health and limiting those that damage the body seem to be a path to health. It takes both approaches to see success.
By now, this is commonly accepted thought for the physical body. But what about healing the mind? Are there really foods that help with mental health issues? According to the MooDFOOD program, which is a multidiscipline consortium involving thirteen organizations in nine European countries, the answer is yes. Their combined expertise in nutrition, preventive psychology, consumer behavior and psychiatry is used “to investigate the potential of food in the prevention of depression.”
Since 2014, their studies have examined the relationship between dietary factors and risk of depression through a randomized controlled trial of 1025 participants, behavioral studies and extensive literature reviews. They’ve found that a “healthy dietary pattern” of daily choices does reduce feelings of depression, and they offer specific tips for the public, health professionals, researchers, and policy makers to show how.
What foods do you like? Have you already noticed what brings on a migraine or settles nausea? Do you have access to foods that are organic, locally grown, or gluten-free? In all probability, you have a good idea of what works for you … and what doesn’t. From here, small steps can bring big changes in how you feel and how your body supports what you want to do. And the time is right. Grocery stores, friends, restaurants are all recognizing the need to do something better for health. If family or friends are not interested yet, be the one who leads the way. You don’t have to “make a big deal” about your new focus. Be you. Others will follow.
It’s not difficult to see how foods can promote or destroy health. The effect on the body can be seen in something as simple as a holiday turkey dinner that must be followed by a nap. Mental health is physical health and a part of the complex network that is the human body. Balance is important in caring for your body. Too much salt or too little can cause major problems, for example. What else can you find?
Starting your own research into what helps your mood is not difficult or time-consuming. Tracking what you eat and how you feel is an option. Talking to your doctor and a nutritionist or dietitian are good ideas. But just taking notice of what helps and what hurts is one easy way to start.
Medical News Today’s “What foods are good for helping depression?” (August 19, 2019) by Jon Johnson lists foods containing selenium, Vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E), B vitamins, zinc, protein, and probiotics as well as foods to avoid.
“Obesity appears to raise the risk of depression,” Johnson writes. “The increased risk may be due to the hormonal and immunological changes that occur in people with obesity.”
Eating what’s good for your health and incorporating exercise into your day can be instrumental in reducing the dangers obesity can bring. That alone can boost mood and make it easier to find help with your mental health. Though it might not be easy or quick, the goal is worth pursuing.
Work with your doctor. Find out about the best treatments for you. If your depression is treatment-resistant, ask what other things you can try. Find support. Give yourself the best care possible.
And think back to your childhood kitchen. There, you might find some of the best tips handed down through your family, things that can be tools you can use to help you with all of your health needs, including anxiety and depression.