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Depression: Foods that Fight Depression

Depression and Diet

Depression is a serious condition and should be treated/diagnosed by a qualified health care professional. If you are struggling with mild depression, particularly seasonal affective disorder (SAD), look to your diet. Did you know that nutritional deficiencies can increase your vulnerability to mood changes and mild to moderate depression? Certain nutrients, such as carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, found in healthy foods, can alter your brain chemistry, which plays a large role in your overall mental health. In addition to complex carbohydrates, certain B-vitamins, iron and omega-3 essential fatty acids are all important nutrients in your quest to help alleviate mild depressive symptoms.

Depression: Recommended Foods & Nutrients

Complex carbohydrates –pasta, potatoes, whole-wheat bread, cereal and brown rice contain tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin in the brain, a chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep. Elevated levels of serotonin in the brain are associated with happiness and a positive mood, not depression. Try starchy, root vegetables as well such as turnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, corn and squash.

Iron- iron deficiency symptoms are not unlike those of mild depression: an inability to concentrate, feeling sluggish/irritable and fatigue. Make sure you consume foods rich in this important trace mineral. Good food sources include lean meat, fortified cereals, prunes and other dried fruits, seafood and dark green veggies.

B-vitamins- Folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B6 are essential for producing a class of brain chemical messengers that influence behavior, one of which is serotonin. Eat plenty of vitamin B6-rich foods, such as fish, poultry, bananas, nuts, potatoes and whole grains. Folate deficiency can contribute to depression. Think ‘greens and beans,’ and concentrate on fortified cereals, broccoli and spinach and orange juice for folate. Keep in mind that cooking destroys folate.

Omega-3 fats- those that consume oily fish, such as tuna and salmon, regularly have particularly low rates of depression. All seafood contains some omega-3 fats, a class of polyunsaturated fats necessary for the health of both the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish also trigger the production of serotonin. Non-seafood sources of omega-3 fats include walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil.

Calories etc: How many calories do I need?

If you have a calculator, then you can figure out how many calories you need. Sure, there are dozens of online calculators, but either of the following expert-recommended mathematical equations are super accurate for calculating your calorie needs. One (the Harris-Benedict equation) uses the metric system. Both formulas yield a similar result.

What is Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)?

The first step for either formula is to calculate your BMR. This is, quite simply, the minimum amount of energy (in calories) you need daily to sustain life. BMR factors in not only your height and weight, but your age. BMR declines every decade beyond age 30, some say up to 10%. This impacts your calorie needs – you need fewer calories daily to maintain your weight as you age. Calculating BMR is only the first step. You need to multiply that number by a physical activity level (PAL), also known as an activity factor. Choose this number based upon your exercise level and lifestyle (active or sedentary job).

Calculations for calories needed

Harris-Benedict Equation:
Men = 66 + (6.3 x weight in lbs) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years) = BMR
Women = 655 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years) = BMR

Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation:
Men = 10 x (weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in centimeters) – (5 x age in years) + 5 = BMR
Women = 10 x (weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in centimeters) – (5 x age in years) – 161 = BMR

The next step is to multiply your BMR by the most suitable physical activity factor (keep in mind that most individuals overestimate their level of physical activity):

Sedentary = BMR x 1.2
Light activity = BMR x 1.375
Moderately active = BMR x 1.55
Very active = BMR x 1.725
Extremely active/Athletic = BMR x 1.9 or more

Using the Harris-Benedict Equation, the BMR for a 40 year-old man, 5’10” and 164 lbs = 1,730 calories
Using the Mifflin St-Jeor formula, the BMR for the same man = 1,661 calories

Calories to lose or gain weight

Now, if you want to gain or lose weight, you need to go a step farther. To lose 1 lb in one week, you need to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. The best way to do this is to decrease your daily caloric intake by 500 calories. You can do this by cutting down on the calories you consume and/or increasing the amount of calories you burn by increasing your exercise intensity, frequency and/or duration. The reverse is true for gaining weight.