{Infographic} How Our Food May Be Making Us Depressed

Nutrition effects every part of our body (it’s obvious, I know, but say it anyway). Our friends at TopCounselingSchools.org weigh in on how nutrition and food can go to your head and impact your mental and emotional health. I’ll let Brietta from TopCounselingSchools.org take it from here.

While it’s common knowledge that certain foods influence your weight, it’s not as widely known that food can also affect your mental health. At TopCounselingSchools.org, we take a look at what foods can make mental illness worse, and which can help promote a healthy mind.

Statistically, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some kind of mental illness [1]. 16 million of these Americans are battling major depression, which is the number one cause of disability in the world [2]. Mental health illness costs the US $193 billion in lost earnings per year [3], and more than half of people with mental illness do not even seek help. This infographic tells which you foods you should eat, and the ones you should avoid, to promote mental health.

Food and Mental Health


What should I eat to promote a healthy mind?

Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are high in omega-3 fatty acids which can boost dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. Deficiencies of these chemicals are linked to depression and the fatty acids also help the part of the brain that covers learning and memory functions [4]. Choosing whole grains over processed complex carbohydrates releases glucose a slower and steady rate, which prevents blood sugar from spiking and helps you feel fuller longer [5]. Lean proteins help to balance serotonin levels which are linked to anxiety disorders as well as depression [6]. One of the benefits of leafy greens is that they have high amounts of folic acid to help fight depression, fatigue, and insomnia. Broccoli offers selenium to help maintain a healthy immune system [7]. Yogurt with active cultures can reduce anxiety and stress. They also help fight bad bacteria in your digestive tract and keep your immune system strong.

What should I eat to avoid higher risks of mental illness?

You want to avoid sugary drinks which spike your blood sugar, which can cause anxiety. Also you avoid those sugar crashes which are terrible for those with depression. Avoid excessive caffeine as well, as it can trigger panic attacks in those prone to anxiety [8]. Not to mention, 3 out of 4 people who use caffeine are addicted to it. You shouldn’t skip breakfast, since it stabilizes blood sugar and metabolism rates. You should also avoid high fat foods. Most dairy, fried, refined and sugary foods have no nutritional value and can lead to weight gain and obesity [5]. Obese Americans have a higher rate of depression and are 25% more likely to experience a mood disorder [9]

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[1] Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015

[2] Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015

[3] Insel, T.R. (2008). Assessing the Economic Costs of Serious Mental Illness. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 165(6), 663-665

[4] Assisi, Alessandro, et al. “Fish oil and mental health: the role of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in cognitive development and neurological disorders.” International clinical psychopharmacology 21.6 (2006): 319-336.

[5] Jacka, Felice N., et al. “Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women.” American Journal of Psychiatry 167.3 (2010): 305-311.

[6] Markus, C. Rob, et al. “The bovine protein α-lactalbumin increases the plasma ratio of tryptophan to the other large neutral amino acids, and in vulnerable subjects raises brain serotonin activity, reduces cortisol concentration, and improves mood under stress.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 71.6 (2000): 1536-1544.

[7] Akbaraly, Tasnime N., et al. “Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 195.5 (2009): 408-413.

[8] Charney, Dennis S., George R. Heninger, and Peter I. Jatlow. “Increased anxiogenic effects of caffeine in panic disorders.” Archives of General Psychiatry 42.3 (1985): 233-243.

[9] http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/depression-and-obesity.aspx