Occasional depression for most of us is normal and usually passes on its own. For others, however, depression is a very serious condition and if left untreated can be life threatening. There are certain foods that alleviate the symptoms of depression. We found 10 Vegan-friendly foods for depression that may help. If you suffer from depression and feel that it is not improving, please see your doctor immediately. The following antidepressant diet suggestions will help with the symptoms of depression, but are not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment.
1. Vital Nutrients
The amount of nutrients in the foods we eat is important. These nutrients support the body’s ability to grow and repair itself. A nutrient-rich diet includes minerals, vitamins, protein, carbohydrates and a small amount of healthy fats. A deficiency in any of these areas means our bodies will not function properly and can even cause illness, including depression.
We all have free radicals in our bodies. These are molecules that damage cells, encourage premature aging and even lead to mental dysfunction. Antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene protect us against free radicals. Vegan foods high in antioxidants include:
- For beta-carotene: broccoli, carrots, apricots, cantaloupe, peaches, collards, spinach, pumpkin and sweet potato
- For Vitamin C: broccoli, blueberries, grapefruit, oranges, kiwi, peppers, strawberries, potatoes and tomatoes
- For Vitamin E: wheat germ, nuts and seeds, vegetable and olive oils
3. Smart Carbs
There are simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs like refined white sugar or high fructose corn syrup can actually contribute to depression. Complex carbs, however, trigger the release of serotonin which has a calming effect on our brains. Complex carbs include whole grains, fruits, legumes and vegetables which contain fiber along with healthy carbohydrates.
Finding good vegan-friendly protein sources can be a bit more challenging, but it is completely possible. Vegan foods containing lots of protein include peas and beans, soy and tofu products. There is an impressive selection of soy and tofu-based dishes in the vegan diet where tofu is used as a meat substitute. When prepared properly there is very little difference in taste and texture from fatty, unhealthy animal meat. There are also protein supplements that are free from animal-based ingredients.
Folates are basically B vitamins. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean style diet that contains plenty of nuts, fruits, cereals and vegetables significantly reduces a person’s risk of depression. B-12, another folate is found in dark green leafy veggies, fruits, nuts and legumes.
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiencies are quite common here in the West. Researchers have found that over 90% of depressed people are deficient in Vitamin D, and even higher in people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Once this deficiency was treated, symptoms of depression decreased significantly. The most natural source of Vitamin D is sunlight. The National Institute of Health recommends 15 minutes of outdoor sun exposure every day. This is plenty of time to absorb the daily allowance of Vitamin D.
Selenium is a mineral that helps regulate moods and alleviate symptoms of depression. The recommended daily allowance of selenium is 55 micrograms (mcg). Foods rich in selenium include:
- Legumes and beans
- Seeds and nuts, Brazil nuts particularly
- Whole grain pasta, oatmeal and brown rice
8. Omega 3’s
People with depression are typically eating a diet with little to no Omega 3 fatty acids. Since Vegans don’t normally eat fatty fish rich in Omega 3, we must find alternative sources. Flaxseed (ground, not whole), soybean oil, canola oil, dark green leafy veggies and walnuts are all excellent sources for an Omega 3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid.
9. Lifestyle Choices
Many depressed people try to self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs, which greatly alter moods including depression. Antidepressant medication is ineffective when alcohol or drugs are present in the body. This is true of all depressed people, not just Vegans.
10. Healthy Active Lifestyle
Being overweight can also contribute to depression as many studies have shown. Maintaining a healthy weight by eating healthy and exercising regularly significantly reduces a person’s risk for developing depression. When put on a healthy diet and exercise plan, patients suffering from depression that were also overweight reported a drop in depression symptoms as they lost weight. Long term studies show that patients who maintained the weight loss were far less prone to suffer the symptoms of depression that had plagued them prior to the change in lifestyle.
People who chose to lead a Vegan lifestyle suffer less depression than meat-eaters, but they can still suffer mild to severe depression. The above dietary and lifestyle suggestions are Vegan-friendly and can greatly improve or even eliminate the symptoms of depression. For people already taking antidepressant medications, you will find that eating these suggested foods can also enable your medicine to work more effectively. As with any illness, if symptoms continue or worsen, it’s best to call your doctor.