Nutrition against depression: Six rules for a strong psyche

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, depressive disorders are among the most common and, in terms of severity, the most underestimated illnesses in the world. It is estimated that about 20 out of 100 people – or about one in five people – experience depression or chronic depressed mood at least once in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders are also among the most common mental illnesses and are increasingly common in children and adolescents.

There are several reasons for the increase in the number of mental illnesses. In addition to digitalization and the influence of social media, the increasing pressure of performance and the fast pace of the “new world”, traumatic experiences such as violence, neglect or abuse in childhood, as well as as flight and migration, shape those affected over the Long Term.

Increase in the number of cases of mental illness

The negative spiral of news about increasingly devastating climatic events, isolation, fear and uncertainty in times of the corona pandemic and reports on the war in Ukraine are also fueling the number of cases.

Uma Naidoo, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a nutritionist, thinks good nutrition can improve your well-being and even alleviate mental illness to some degree. In her best-selling book “Nutrition for the Psyche,” she explains which foods and nutrients are beneficial and which are harmful. The results are based on current scientific studies.

Relationship between diet and symptoms

During his training as a psychiatrist, Naidoo saw certain patterns between his patients’ diets and the onset of mental disorders and symptoms, which had previously been dismissed as side effects of drugs such as psychotropics – and acknowledged that even small changes in patients’ eating habits can have a major effect on their health had symptoms and even reduced them. “We have a long tradition in Western medicine of thinking about mind and body separately,” says Naidoo.

The Miracle of the Gut-Brain Axis

However, science is now certain that there is a connection between the gut and the brain – the so-called gut-brain axis. Studies have shown clear links between a patient’s gut health and their mental state. The two organs communicate with each other through the gut-brain connection. With a healthy diet, gut microbes produce neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine. Two substances that control our mood and our feelings.

Naidoo recognized it too. She continued her education in nutrition and trained as a cook so she could give her patients individual nutritional recommendations – in addition to traditional psychiatric care. The psychiatrist also established Nutritional & Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, the first clinical specialty in nutritional psychiatry in the United States, to expand her own research.

Individual nutritional recommendations as the key to the goal

An individual nutritional recommendation is particularly important during treatment, emphasizes Naidoo. Since the microbiome, the sum total of all living microorganisms in the gut, differs from person to person, no general nutritional recommendations for the treatment of mental illnesses can be given.

“The way someone reacts to a certain diet is different,” says Naidoo. “Some diets that have worked very well for one person may not work the same way for another.”

Small changes can make a big difference

However, basic recommendations can be drawn from the results of current studies. Even small changes like incorporating more vegetables and berries, as well as healthy fats like omega-3s, olive oil and nuts, can improve mood and focus, Naidoo says.

A recent large-scale study has also shown that a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables of different colors, low-fat dairy products, and high-quality nuts, seeds, and oils can have a beneficial effect on relief. symptoms of mental illnesses such as ADHD. .

Studies show the effects of diet on depression

A 2017 study also followed depressed test subjects, divided into two groups, for three months. In the group that ate healthier, almost a third of people were no longer depressed. In the control group, it was only eight percent. The effects of a healthy diet should therefore not be underestimated.

However, Naidoo also points out that a healthy diet cannot in any way replace psychiatric treatment, but rather supplements it in a significant and effective way. “For most people, however, it is more effective to combine nutrition with psychotherapy and medication,” explains the psychiatrist. Talk therapy is particularly important for achieving lasting improvement in symptoms.

Six nutritional fundamentals for a strong psyche

However, everyone should pay attention to some basic nutritional principles in order to support their mental and psychological health. Individual nutritional recommendations extend the basic concept.

1. The 80-20 Rule

Naidoo advises patients to follow the 80-20 rule, which is based on the so-called Pareto principle. 80% of the diet should be covered with as unprocessed, natural, and fiber-rich foods as possible. The other 20% can sometimes be “unhealthy” and cater to food cravings – after all, nutrition should satisfy body and mind.

2. The more colorful, the better

The expert points out that as many naturally occurring colored foods as possible should be eaten at every meal – in line with the motto “eat the rainbow”.

  • Three quarters of the plate must be included

    vegetables
    to be full.

  • The remaining quarter sits

    from healthy fats like olive oil and nuts
    such as

    long-chain carbs like whole grains or quinoa
    together. They only allow the blood sugar level to rise slowly and thus prevent cravings.

In addition, care should be taken to ensure an adequate protein intake. The general rule is one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight – so a 65 kilogram woman should consume around 65 grams of protein, for example

through meat or fish, legumes or dairy products
.

3. Choose green leafy vegetables

Dark leafy greens are especially nutritious. The following rule applies: the darker the vegetable, the higher the nutrient density. You should therefore eat four to six handfuls of green leafy vegetables a day – for example in the form of

  • spinach
  • Romaine lettuce
  • chard
  • kale
  • Arugula or also
  • dandelion leaves.

4. Listen to your body

In general, you should always listen to your personal bodily feelings. Be aware of how you feel after a meal. If you are tired, listless, or unable to concentrate after eating, have indigestion, or similar symptoms, you should consider whether previously eaten foods might be to blame. Eat only foods that are good for you, physically and mentally.

5. Stay tuned

Ultimately, a change in diet is of interest only if it can be implemented on a long-term basis. Design your diet so that it fits into your daily life. Nutrition should be a pleasure, not a burden. It is also important to pay attention to other areas of life: Are you getting enough exercise? Are you getting enough sleep? A healthy lifestyle involves many aspects.

6. Avoid inflammatory foods

According to Naidoo, certain foods can promote inflammation in the body – and therefore also anxiety, psychological stress and depression. This includes highly processed foods such as

  • sausage
  • fast food
  • crisps or
  • Baked goods containing a lot of sugar, salt or industrially hydrogenated fats.

They should only be enjoyed in moderation.

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