by Tony Gjokaj October 14, 2021 5 min read

When I first started my fitness journey, I was an overweight and depressed kid. My regular meal was a Big Mac with a Milkshake from McDonalds.

I can remember on several occasions how I used food for emotional comfort.

As exercise was introduced into my life, I decided to make better choices in food. In doing so, I recognized one thing very quickly: how important nutrition was for mental health.

The nutrient quality of food plays a huge part in both our brain and body. In fact, a plethora of research has shown that dietary patterns can contribute to depression

One study in particular assigned 67 depressed adults to either 7 individual consulting sessions with a dietician or 7 social support group sessions for over 12 weeks. The individual consulting sessions helped the depressed individuals make adjustments to their diet and limit junk food.

At the end of the study, 8% of the social support group saw remission in their depression, 1/3rd of the dietician consulting group experienced remission

This is why nutrition can potentially be a powerful thing to utilize in our journey towards better mood and wellbeing.

So in this post, we are going to go over 5 ways nutrition can help with depression.

Let's dive in!

I. Eat More Omega-3's.

Omega-3's are known as essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies do not typically make them. We need to consume them from our diets. These fatty acids have been shown to help with brain development and functioning.

Omega-3's consist of both EPA and DHA fatty acids, and according to research, EPA has the potential to help those with depression. According to one meta-analysis that analyzed double-blind studies, EPA has been shown to improve depressive symptoms when individuals consume over 1000mg of EPA.

We can get Omega-3 fatty acids from fish like salmon and tuna, or from nuts like walnuts, and almonds.

Recommendations

The following are recommendations for proper Omega-3 consumption:

  • Get about 1000mg of EPA daily. 4 ounces of Salmon will help you hit this goal. For an entire chart of fish and EPA serving sizes, you can look at the Heart Institute's post.
  • Consume fish about 1-2 times per week. This is to avoid mercury poisoning.
  • On days you don't consume fish, supplement with fish oil. Understand that some fish oils contain low levels of EPA (with 300mg per two soft gels, meaning you'll need more than 6 soft gels to get an entire serving).

II. Get More Zinc & Magnesium.

Zinc and Magnesium are some of the more common deficiencies in the Western Diet. Deficiencies in both of these nutrients can lead to depressive symptoms.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that helps brain function, our immune system, and more. It has been shown to help improve mood in those that are deficient in zinc.

Zinc has also been utilized to help support optimal levels of testosterone.

You can get zinc from meat, eggs, and legumes.

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is very common in developed countries like ours. This is due to the fact that grains don't contain sufficient levels of magnesium.

We typically don't consume enough nuts or leafy vegetables in our Western diets.

Research has shown there is a connection between low magnesium intake and depression. In addition, magnesium has shown that regardless of age and gender, supplementation has shown to improve depressive symptoms.

Magnesium has also been shown to be a modulator for Vitamin D. Magnesium optimizes Vitamin D levels in those who are deficient, and lowers it in those with levels that are too high.

We will talk more about Vitamin D and it's importance in mental health later.

Recommendations

  • Consume foods like red meat, nuts, and seeds. These foods contain zinc and magnesium.
  • You should consume about 200-400mg of magnesium daily. For reference, 1/2 cup of black beans contain around 60mg. You can see magnesium amounts in specific foods here.
  • Consume at least 5-10mg of zinc daily.For reference, 3oz of chicken contains around 2.4mg of zinc. You can see zinc and it's specific amounts per serving here.
  • If you don't consume these foods often, supplement with Zinc & Magnesium. It's always better to consume whole foods that contain these nutrients, but supplementation is the next best option.
  • You shouldn't go over 40mg of Zinc unless your doctor says otherwise.

III. Consume A High-Protein Diet.

Protein is an essential macronutrient needed for optimal brain health. This is because protein is broken down into amino acids, which produce neurotransmitters that can help with depression and anxiety.

Protein consumption is connected to higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, motivation, and focus. It also helps produce tryptophan, which helps regulate serotonin, another neurotransmitter.

Amino acids are produced from high-protein foods: from foods like eggs, meat, fish, and beans.

Recommendations

  • Have lean protein with every meal. Lean proteins contain a variety of amino acids that help with these processes.
  • You should consume 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight. This equates to ~1-2 palm servings of protein, and what is considered an optimal amount of protein for those who engage in physical activity.
  • Consume beans, nuts, eggs, and meats. They contain high amounts of amino acids like tryptophan, l-tyrosine, and a variety of other essential (and conditional) amino acids.

IV. Get Some Sun.

There is a connection between Vitamin D, mood, and wellbeing.

While not everyone is deficient in Vitamin D, some of us don't get enough. People who don't get regular sun exposure (lack of Vitamin D) typically encounter depressive symptoms.

In the winter where sunlight is limited, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is quite common. Seasonal Affective Disorder is where a person experiences depression as a result of a lack of sunlight exposure.

SAD usually impacts many during the winter time, with these symptoms going to remission around spring and summer time.

Vitamin D has also been shown to aid in improving immune health. It also reduces risk of cardiovascular diseases, colorectal cancer, and a variety of other challenges one might face in their lives.

It does not hurt to get some sun, especially if it helps you live better.

Recommendations

  • Get 15-30 minutes of sun exposure. Those with a darker skin complexion may need more sun exposure.
  • No sun exposure? Supplement with Vitamin D. 1000-3000 IU is an efficient amount. Vitamin D supplementation is extremely beneficial for the winter.
  • Remember to get your Magnesium in. As mentioned before, magnesium can optimize Vitamin D levels.

V. Limit Processed Foods.

There is a link between high processed foods and depression. Those who tend to eat processed foods or junk foods regularly are more than 50% likely to develop depressive symptoms compared to those who don't.

People who also eat junk food are less likely to be physically active, eat less nutrient-dense foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, etc), and less healthy fats (nuts, fish, olive oil, etc).

Recommendations

  • Limit processed foods. Eat significantly less junk food. Prioritize your whole foods.
  • Consume more nutrient-dense foods. A rule-of-thumb is 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. 1/2-1 cup of fruits and vegetables equates to one serving.

Food Mood

Based on the recommendations we've covered, we wanted to give you one final recommendation: consider a Mediterranean Diet. According to research, the Mediterranean Diet has been shown to help decrease symptoms of depression.

While the diet isn't a specific diet per-say, it's more like a set of recommendations you can follow. If you have followed the recommendations from this post, you will have most of it down:

  • Consume lean proteins like poultry and fish.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Get your Omega-3's in.
  • Limit or avoid processed foods like pastries and soft drinks.

If you follow these recommendations, you should see some improvements to your mood.

To conclude, we want you to always consult with a doctor or physician when making changes to your diet or lifestyle.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to email us at support@reforgedperformance.com, or direct message us on Instagram.

Until next time!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.



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