While many people look to food as a way to alleviate emotions, experts argue that the effect could be the opposite. In a recent study, researchers noted that while fast food and high glycemic index foods stimulate mental stress in women, a diet rich in fruits, dark green vegetables and fish has less influence on this picture. In the specific case of depression, research suggests that there may be a relationship between dietary patterns and the risk of depression. To learn more about the impacts of diet on this disease, the US Athlete spoke with nutritionist Bartira Lopes, psychiatrist Maria Francisca Mauro and psychologist Renato Caminha. According to specialists, what is eaten can influence these psychosomatic conditions.
It is clear that preventing and dealing with this problem should not be based solely on diet. Depression is a psychiatric illness that can be triggered by a variety of factors, including heredity, and requires individualized treatment. Check out nine tips to make food an ally against cases of depression.
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People look for hyperpalatable foods to relieve emotions, but the effect can be opposite and worsen depressive conditions — Photo: Getty Images
- Escape from industrialized and ultra-processed foods, such as snacks, biscuits and processed meats, which are rich in sugar, fat and additives. These products will affect intestinal function, are very harmful to health and, as studies and expert practice suggest, also have an impact on cases of depression;
- avoid fast food. For this, a tip is to restrict the use of food apps, which offer convenience, but can have effects on the pocket and body, and opt for preparations at home. Plan yourself, go to the fair and cook more, creating a positive relationship with food;
- Watch out for sugar consumption, which has a strong association with depressive conditions. It is already known that industrialized products should be avoided, but it is worth reinforcing in relation to soft drinks. Its consumption is very harmful to health and, as it is rich in sugar, it can also be an aggravating factor in cases of depression;
- avoid alcoholic drinks, which can also trigger these frames;
- Prefer the consumption of fruits and vegetables;
- Include foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory drugs in your diet, like fruits and omega-3, like fish. It’s still worth betting on rich options in tryptophan, essential amino acid precursor of serotonin. This is the case of oilseeds and bananas;
- Remember there is no such thing as a miracle food. However, experts consulted by the US Athlete claim that The turmeric, due to its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect, it can be an ally against depression, as suggested by studies;
- Have a balanced diet. This is the path to a healthy microbiota and the many benefits of a healthy gut;
- Don’t forget that mental health depends on a number of factors.. Food is very important, but it is necessary to consult a therapist and psychiatrist to be diagnosed and treat depression.
Specialist in clinical, sports and functional nutrition, Bartira Lopes comments that, in recent years, studies have established an association between diet and depression. The nutritionist cites, for example, research showing that a Western diet, based on ultra-processed food products and fast food rich in sugar, fat, sodium and nutritionally poor, may increase the risk of depression. On the other hand, a diet rich in antioxidants, which includes foods such as fruits, vegetables, vegetables, whole grains, milk and non-fat dairy products and with a low consumption of foods of animal origin can reduce this impact. In this context, Bartira emphasizes that the key is to adopt a diet that guarantees intestinal health and a balance between the good and bad bacteria that inhabit the microbiota.
– A bad diet with excess industrialized and ultra-processed products directly affects our intestine, which is our second brain. This is our body’s biggest link: gut and brain. If the intestine is compromised, nutrient absorption and functions are also compromised. The production of several neurotransmitters takes place in the intestine. About 90% of serotonin (well-being hormone), whose reduction is linked to depression and anxiety, is produced by the intestine – comments the nutritionist.
According to Maria Francisca Mauro, a psychiatrist specialized in the field of Eating Disorders and Obesity, although there are studies that establish a relationship between diet and depression, most are observational, and not randomized controlled research. So there is more room for further exploration. After all, as the doctor reinforces, several factors influence these cases. Individuals with a family history, for example, are more likely to suffer from depression. In addition, the environment in which the person is inserted, the socioeconomic level and even adverse and stressful situations, such as unemployment and events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can predispose to depressive conditions. However, the psychiatrist also draws attention to the role of diet.
– Food, as well as exercise, has an important outcome for controlling mood. When the activity of chemical substances that increase the degree of inflammation is increased, mood changes are also predisposed. But there are patients who can improve their diet, exercise and lead a stress-free life and remain depressed, because this is a psychiatric condition, and depression has different levels. The important thing is to have the diagnosis, learn to reorganize life, including exercise and change in eating habits, and measure what it is necessary to intervene with medication – explains the doctor, adding that people with obesity are more likely to develop depression, as well as individuals with this disorder may experience a greater risk of becoming overweight.
A balanced diet helps keep the intestines healthy by contributing to its functions such as the production of serotonin — Photo: Istock Getty Images
Renato Caminha, Master in Social and Personality Psychology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS), shows that diet is a correlation variable in depressive conditions. Just as it is not possible to say that every person who smokes will have cancer, it is not possible to establish a causal relationship between diet and depression. However, as mental health is multifactorial, the psychologist finds that the approach may involve not only monitoring by a therapist and psychiatrist, but also by other specialties, including nutritionists. In the end, food, as well as the quality of sleep and the practice of physical exercise, can have an impact on the individual’s mental health. And, because they are epigenetic factors, they can reduce or increase the gene frequency of mental states.
– Breaking the sleep cycle affects mental biochemistry and worsens depression and anxiety. Food too. A classic book from the 70s already raised a correlation between sugar and depressive mental states. Foods with excessive coloring, stabilizers and fat, in addition to sugar, in fact, aggravate and are correlated with mental states. On the other hand, experiments that treat depression include foods considered neuroprotective, such as those rich in omega 3 – observes the psychologist, emphasizing that this is also the case for an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory diet.
The psychiatrist shows concern in establishing foods that are indicated for the prevention and treatment of depression, not least because many people want to avoid the use of medication for mental disorders such as this disease, although they are essential depending on the condition. However, in practice, it is noticed that the patient starts to feel better when he eats well. Therefore, the psychiatrist’s recommendation is to bet on a balanced diet, rich in fresh foods and prepared at home, with less processed foods and ready-to-eat foods, which also have a high capacity to generate binge eating.
– The person, when depressed, seeks comfort in food. Hyperpalatable foods, such as chocolate, biscuits, pizza and hamburgers, give a rush of dopamine and relief from depressive symptoms. Our brain has a reward mechanism and these patients seek this type of food rich in trans fats and sugar for comfort – notes the doctor.
Maria also comments that it is common for patients with depression to lose the desire to carry out daily activities and opt for what will require less effort. As a result, they frequently consume ready-to-eat meals.
– Opening the app and ordering food is easier than planning to cook. Whoever peels food, seasons, cooks or bakes, is aware of the food process and has a different relationship with the food than the person who just opens the package. But for those who have depression, everything is very difficult to do – explains the psychiatrist.
Bet on fruits, vegetables, greens, oilseeds and pulses as allies against depression — Photo: Istock Getty Images
Sources: Bartira Lopes he is a nutritionist, a specialist in clinical, sports and functional nutrition. He also has training in intestinal modulation and behavioral nutrition.
Maria Francisca Mauro is a psychiatrist with a master’s degree in Psychiatry from the Graduate Program in Psychiatry and Mental Health (Propsam) of the Institute of Psychiatry (Ipub) of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and works in the area of Eating Disorders and Obesity. She is a collaborating researcher in the Obesity and Bariatric Surgery Program at the University Hospital Fraga Filho, at UFRJ, and a member of the Obesity and Eating Disorders Group at Ipub. She is currently a doctoral student at Propsam.
Renato Caminha is a psychologist with a master’s degree in Social and Personality Psychology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS), cognitive therapist and doctoral candidate at the University of Algarve. He is a research professor in the field of Cognitive Psychotherapies in Childhood, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Prevention in Mental Health and Socio-emotional Education and visiting professor at the Master’s Degree at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Author and co-author of works in the field of Cognitive Therapies, he is a founding member of the Brazilian Federation of Cognitive Therapies (FBIC), director of the TRI Institute of Socioemotional Education and president of the Brazilian Congress of Cognitive Therapies for Childhood and Adolescence, as well as partner and director of Teaching at InTCC-Brasil, focused on teaching, research and individual and family assistance.