Many people have been struggling with mental health issues due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Continued isolation, economic uncertainty, political tensions, the illness or death of loved ones, and other factors have led to a collective sense of anxiety throughout the country.
While some mental health issues are best treated by a qualified mental health professional and may require medication, other lifestyle changes can help combat many symptoms of depression and anxiety. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, spending time in nature, and meditation are just a few of the simple habits that have been shown to improve mental health when practiced regularly.
One aspect of mental health management that often goes overlooked is diet. While it may be tempting to turn to comfort foods during periods of depression or anxiety, eating a diet high in beneficial nutrients has been linked to better mental well-being. While food alone cannot treat depression or anxiety, choosing to eat a healthier diet can be one important component of a lifestyle that benefits both your mental and physical health.
The following are some of the best foods to include in your diet to help improve your mental and emotional resilience during difficult times.
Studies have found that chronic internal inflammation can have negative consequences on brain function and mental health. People with depression tend to eat more foods associated with inflammation, such as refined carbohydrates and trans fats, although more research is needed in this area.
Research shows that symptoms of depression can be reduced with the use of anti-inflammatory agents, which include certain dietary patterns. The Mediterranean diet, for example, is well known for its anti-inflammatory benefits due to its emphasis on foods such as olive oil, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Foods that are especially helpful in reducing inflammation include tomatoes, berries, leafy greens, olives, green tea, fatty fish such as salmon, nuts, avocados, broccoli, bell peppers, turmeric, coconut oil, and dark chocolate. Make an effort to include more of these foods in your diet. Even small changes can have an enormous impact. For example, trade your afternoon high-calorie caramel macchiato for a green tea latte made with coconut milk.
It’s also important to limit your intake of inflammatory foods and beverages, which include wheat, dairy products, coffee, alcohol, sugar, processed meats, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, and refined vegetable oils.
Antioxidants are compounds that reduce oxidative stress in the body by neutralizing harmful particles known as free radicals. Research has shown that people who experience depression and anxiety have lower levels of certain antioxidants, including vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. It’s thought that by reducing oxidative stress in the brain, antioxidants can help protect against neural damage that contributes to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
There are many different types of antioxidants, which all serve different purposes and are found in different foods—mainly fresh fruits and vegetables. This is why it’s important to eat a varied diet that contains many different fresh foods.
Some of the best sources of antioxidants are tomatoes, berries, cherries, orange foods such as pumpkin and apricot, dark chocolate, leeks and onions, kale, spinach, and beets.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between omega-3 fatty acids and mental health. People who eat a standard Western diet are often deficient in these important fatty acids, which are found primarily in fish and algae.
In addition to reducing inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids play important roles in brain function and development. They form part of the membranes of brain cells, helping to protect membranes and facilitate communication between brain cells.
When animals are deprived of omega-3 fatty acids, they tend to experience problems with memory and learning. These effects can be reversed by reintroducing omega-3 fatty acids to the diet.
In older adults, a lack of omega-3s has been associated with accelerated brain aging.
Because omega-3s can be difficult to obtain from diet alone, a good-quality fish oil supplement or algae supplement can benefit most people.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms of depression or anxiety, including suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Many people are experiencing mental health challenges during these difficult times, and therapy can be beneficial even if your symptoms don’t feel severe. Many behavioral health providers are offering free or low-cost services to those in need of assistance.
If your doctor has prescribed you medication for treating depression or anxiety, you can use your WellRx prescription savings card to obtain the best price for your medication.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.