Our resident GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee, star of BBC One’s Doctor In The House, talks about combatting depression with food
Depression will affect one in five of us at some point in our lives. While there are many factors that can contribute to its development, there is loads you can do to prevent and reverse it with food. I strongly believe the food you eat affects your mental health, and here’s why. You’ll be familiar with the idea that food can make you feel good – many of us turn to certain snacks for comfort. But, those foods that give you a temporary boost can often keep you stuck in a cycle of highs and lows.
Sugar, as well as foods that contain it and are rapidly converted into it when eaten, can literally shock your body and send your blood sugar sky high. Around 2-3 hours later, your blood sugar levels plummet, causing your body to release its fight or flight hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones put your body on high alert.
But when was the last time your doctor asked you what you were eating when you went to him or her about feeling low? It’s something I ask every patient who walks through my door because when it comes to mental health, the nutrients you put into your mouth have a profound impact.
If you eat a lot of what’s often called ‘beige foods’ – pizzas, doughnuts, bread etc. – you can experience a pretty rapid mood improvement by switching to a wholefood diet. I’ve even seen some cases where changing a person’s diet and eliminating sugar led to a complete end to depression.
Often, many symptoms get significantly better by eating foods that keep your blood sugar stable, such as high-quality protein in the form of eggs, lean meats and healthy fats from nuts, seeds and avocados. A recent study found that depressed people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet saw a significant improvement in their symptoms.
And, dietary changes often create a domino effect whereby you start to want to exercise more, which is also proven to increase happiness. From there, some patients of mine go on to have CBT or counselling to further increase the benefits.
You have the power to improve the way you feel by controlling what you put on your plate; use that power to enhance your mood and lifestyle.