Feel-good foods that may help fight depression

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Depression is defined as a low mood that persists over a long period of time, affecting every aspect of everyday life.

Mild cases of depression may not stop you leading a normal life, but low spirit can make everyday activities more challenging and less worthwhile. 

More severely, depression can be life-threatening and leave people feeling helpless, suicidal and losing the will and strength to live.

This condition is hugely complex and characterized by many different factors. 

While making healthy diet and lifestyle choices is certainly not going to cure or prevent depression, findings from a recent study carried out by Manchester University have added weight to the evidence that adopting healthy habits may improve the symptoms associated with the condition.

With over 40 million people in the US struggling with depression, and over two million adults in the UK, many are clamoring for any new information that could help us combat mental health issues. 

Dr Aria

Rob Hobson

Psychologist Dr Aria (left) and registered nutritionist Rob Hobson (right) on feel-good foods

Surveys into mental health problems are typically based on adults living in private housing and may underestimate the extent of the problem as they do not include those with mental health difficulties who are homeless, in sheltered accommodation, hospitals or prisons

The overall number of adults with depression has not significantly changed recently. 

However, money troubles, unemployment, health concerns, family difficulties and Brexit worries can make it more difficult to cope. 

The way that we are managing conditions like depression is worsening, with the numbers of people experiencing suicidal thoughts or self-harming on the rise.

Mental health problems drive thousands of people to take their own lives. 

In the US, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death.

In the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics, men under the age of 49 account for 75 percent of suicides - making this the leading cause of death among this group.

Can diet and lifestyle choices improve the condition?

Making simple dietary changes does appear to improve the symptoms of depression according to the findings from a recent study carried out by researchers at the University of Manchester. 

The study analyzed data from 16 clinical trials examining the effects of dietary interventions on symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

The research, which included data from almost 46,000 people found that weight loss, nutrient boosting and fat reducing diets all helped to improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression even in people without diagnosed depressive disorders. 

Up until now, previous studies have been unable to definitively establish whether or not dietary improvement could benefit mental health.

The study also found that all types of dietary improvement had equal effects on mental health, suggesting that highly-specific or specialized diet were unnecessary for the average individual. 

Specific dietary changes from the study included eating more nutrient-dense meals rich in fiber and vegetables whilst cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars, which were shown to be sufficient in avoiding the potentially negative psychological effects of what they called a ‘junk food’ diet.

Exercise played a role too as they also showed how combining dietary interventions with physical activity led to a greater improvement in depressive symptoms. 

In the study it was also shown how women experienced greater benefits from these interventions than men.

Researchers also commented on the need to identify how the benefits of a healthier diet on improved physical health may be linked to conditions such as depression, which could be the result of reducing obesity, inflammation or fatigue.

How easy is it for people with depression to make these changes to their diet? 

Making changes to your eating and exercise can be extremely difficult and appear overwhelming if you’re experiencing a mental health condition. 

Depression itself is characterized by reduced interest in everyday activities, feeling tired on a daily basis, and a diminished ability to think or make decisions.

The key to eating better even if you have depression is to create little, gradual changes that become habits. The advantage of habits is that they persist even when motivation and interest desist. Studies show that actions that are simpler become second nature more quickly.

The most effective way to make dietary or exercise changes if you have depression is therefore to start with a very small step. 

Start by making just one meal of the day healthier. 

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