Food and Depression

It is important to state that use of food for treatment of depression needs to be combined with medication and psychotherapy. In the last post (insert the link to that post here), we learnt that food is broken down in the gut and then distributed to the body and brain where it is utilized. Think about this again, like when we are anxious or afraid, we talk about butterflies in the stomach, meaning there is direct communication between the gut and brain and therefore what we eat needs to affect both positively.

Now think about depression, which is a mood disorder that affects the brain and the body. There is another co-relation. A key factor that can balance a person’s mood is having a regular routine of healthy eating. This is important because it allows the body to regulate its chemical neurotransmitters and other body functions when provided with the best sources of nutrients. Therefore, eating well is important as it greatly affects ones mental state and improves their mood.

Eating well in depression and other conditions means eating plenty of:

  • Vitamins B and folic acid, C and E. These are obtained from fruits, legumes, green vegetables, animal products and vegetable oils preferably cold pressed (these do not have additives and are not affected by the process of heating). Vitamin D from the sun or supplements. We have plenty of sunshine and yet due to lifestyle some of us do not get enough sunshine.

  • High antioxidants these are substances that reduce damage in the body caused by oxidation and are found in the orange foods, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and deep greens.

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 from fish or in supplements has been found to have mood stabilizing effects. Hence linked to reducing rates of depression.

  • both animal and plant i.e. legumes that are low in fat and rich in fibre, nuts, dairy products, fish.

  • avoid or reduce white based starches. Avoid too much starch by keeping it to about a third of the total meal.

  • Oils - Our bodies need small amounts of good oils mostly vegetable oils, coconut, sunflower.

  • - recommended amounts 6-8 glasses however; we need more when it is very hot.

At the same time, it is important to reduce the intake of caffeine, sugar. It is important to note that caffeine causes anxiety that may increase depression and decrease sleep.

It is important to have meals at specific regular times. This means having meals at nearly the same time every day. Creating specific regular times to eat and a routine help the body to regulate hormone and sugar levels that helps avoid or prevent mental and mood crashes. The body learns to expect food at certain times leading to better performance. This expectation is demonstrated in the fact that around the time we eat, the body gives signals like getting tired or being less productive means the fuel supply is low. At the same time the tummy gives hunger signals like grumbling and the combination of the two may not be ignored for long.

For healing of both body and mind to take place food does not work alone. It is a vital component that provides the fuel; however, regular exercise and good sleep are needed. Exercises boosts the production of some of the neurotransmitters necessary for the body while during sleep the body healing process (panel beating and straightening and fixing) takes place.


Dr. Mutheu Talitwala, Psy. D., Consultant Psychologist, has been with Gilead Mental Health Consultants since 2013. She brought vast counselling experience having worked as a nursing trainer for many years and a senior psychology lecturer at Daystar University and Africa International University amongst other institutions, She also has extensive experience as a grief and burnout counsellor


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