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Dietitians Dish: Nutrition and your depression

By By Stephanie Whitley
Nov. 5, 2013 at 5:05 a.m.


Despite the abundance of sunshine in South Texas, an average one in 10 Americans suffer from depression.

Some indicators that you are clinically depressed include thinking of suicide, a desire to isolate yourself, unable to be happy even in a happy moment, insomnia, not feeling rested after a long night of sleep and feeling emotionally numb.

We have all experienced how a dreary day outside can make us feel dreary on the inside. This is associated with the vitamin D that we absorb from direct sunshine. Vitamin D takes part in producing serotonin in our brains that triggers that happy-go-lucky feeling. Studies have found that people low in vitamin D are more likely to have depression.

Fortunately for South Texans, we are close enough to the equator that we can absorb vitamin D year-round; just make sure you get about 10 minutes of sun each day without sunscreen or being completely covered with clothing.

You can also get vitamin D from food: fish liver oils, fatty fish (salmon, herring, canned sardines) and fortified cereal, milk and orange juice. Calcium aids in the absorption of vitamin D, so a bowl of fortified cereal and milk can aid in your brain's health, especially if you eat it on the porch and get some sunshine.

Another nutrient associated with depression is omega-3 fatty acids because they may contribute to the gray matter in your brain that helps regulate emotions, according to the Nutrition 411 website . Foods high in omega-3 are fatty fish (tuna, salmon, herring, anchovies), walnuts, soy nuts, flaxseed and canola oil.

Another angle to fight depression is by getting plenty of the antioxidants. Specifically, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E will fight against free radicals that contribute to aging and dysfunction in your cells. Low levels of folate and B12 are also associated with depression.

Food sources of folate include dark green vegetables, mushrooms, lean beef, potatoes, whole-wheat bread, peas, legumes, nuts, citrus fruits and strawberries. Foods that provide vitamin B12 are lean meats and dairy products.

Protein also plays a role in brain health. A specific protein, tyrosine, can boost your feeling of alertness, and the neurotransmitters in your brain are made from protein. Inadequate protein intake can be reflected by poor mood and aggression.

I'm sure you have noticed how tired you can get after a meal heavy in carbohydrates. That is because carbs trigger the production of serotonin and tryptophan in your brain, which also contribute to that relaxed, feel-good emotional state. Having a diet too low in carbohydrates, however, has been associated with depression, so be sure to keep a balance.

If you are overweight or obese, you are more likely to have depression because of obesity's effect on your immune system and hormones. Finally, skipping meals, a poor appetite and a dominant desire for sweets can be signs that you may become depressed.

In summary, maintain a healthy weight, get regular sunshine, eat lots of fruits, vegetables and omega-3-rich foods, and focus on a moderate level of carbohydrates in your diet and enjoy a happier life.

Stephanie Whitley is a registered and licensed dietitian DeTar Healthcare Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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