Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Eat Your Way Out of a Depression

The silhouette of a man hunched over in a chair. He looks down and out.
Image: Shutterstock
Many people turn to food when they’re depressed. The usual culprits include pizza, ice cream, and cookies. Unfortunately, junk food items like these can actually worsen the symptoms of depression. That’s because foods high in fat, sugar, and salt create a “crash” effect. Much like drugs, these foods provide an instant high immediately after being consumed. The salt, sugar, and fat releases dopamine in the brain, the compound responsible for human pleasure. But by the time the high wears off, these high-caloric foods cause the consumer to feel bloated, lethargic, and mentally foggy. That’s the last thing that someone who is depressed needs.

The good news is that there are plenty of healthy, mood-lifting alternatives to these junk-food cravings. The following comprises a list of nutritious substitutes that can help ease the symptoms of depression:

Sweet tooth?
Say hello to dark chocolate. Eaten in moderation (about 1.5 ounces per day), dark chocolate can provide numerous health benefits. Cocoa has a ton of antioxidants that ward off infections, fight the signs of aging, and boost energy levels. The tricky thing to watch out for is sugar content. Generally speaking, a higher cocoa percentage equates to less sugar. Consumers should aim for at least 72% cocoa in order to feel the uplifting effects of dark chocolate. 

Craving carbs?
Despite weight-loss experts touting the benefits of zero-carb diets, whole grains actually provide the body with much needed fiber, protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. These nutrients are essential in providing the energy the body needs to combat stress. However, bad carbs (such as white bread) cause insulin levels to spike. Spiked insulin levels can result in mood swings, fatigue, and irritability. If depression is taking its toll, ditch the overly processed bleached flours and instead opt for whole grains.

Can’t live without salt?
People who love salt are merely people who love flavor. There’s nothing wrong with that. But why not simultaneously enjoy flavor and health? For a sweet flavor, try some cinnamon, nutmeg, or saffron. For a spicy flavor, try cayenne, curry, cumin, or turmeric. Rosemary, basil, and thyme are also great options and taste delicious when used in soups.

In conclusion, it’s important not to feel guilty about having junk food cravings. The human body has evolved over time to crave foods high in fat, sugar, and salt because the extra calories could be stored as fat in times of starvation. However, in times of depression, just think of those extra calories being stored as extra hours of distress.