If there’s one thing all depressed people crave, it’s carbohydrates found in comfort foods like potatoes and pasta. That’s because carbohydrates increase brain levels of tryptophan, the amino acid that converts to mood-calming serotonin in the brain. The kind of carbohydrates that do the best job on a depression healing diet are complex carbohydrates like brown rice and other whole grains. That’s because they are low on the Glycemic Index (GI) and retain all of their fiber and nutrients.
Complex carbs break down slowly in the body and release energy-creating glucose gradually for an even mood, whereas processed carbs like cake, cookies and sugary processed foods instantly spike your blood sugar, leading to sugar rushes and crashes. The key is balance — small servings of complex carbs several times a day, always paired with healthy fats and proteins to keep your mood even. In no time, you’ll no longer be pitching and rolling on storm waves and all at sea but enjoying plain sailing on an ocean of calm.
1. Depressed people crave tryptophan-boosting carbs. It is normal to crave carbohydrates, depressed or not. That’s because, according to Elizabeth Somer, M.A, R.D. in her book Food and Mood, when you eat carbs, your pancreas secretes insulin to lower blood levels of amino acids in the food but allows the relaxing amino acid tryptophan to rise and more rapidly reach the brain. Once there, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for communicating calm between your brain cells, and you instantly feel good. This is exactly the way the class of antidepressants known as Selected Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) work — only naturally, through the foods you eat.
3. Low-carb diets foster depression. When you eat meals that are high in protein, you experience a number of benefits, including a boost in amino acids for body repair. However, for depressed people, who need to boost serotonin levels in the brain, lowering carbs may not be such a great idea. Studies of people on low-carb weight-loss diets have found that they experienced more depression on a low-carb diet than people who ate more complex carbs.
2. Balance carbs with high-quality meat, dairy and leafy greens to boost Bs. One of the mistakes that many depressed people make is to eat carbs on their own. Not only does this often tip you over into sleepiness but it creates an unbalanced meal that ups your glucose and tryptophan without also adding in much needed nutrients like B vitamins, healthy fats and high-quality proteins that work together to stabilize your body and your mood.
It’s particularly important to consume vitamin B12 from animal sources like meat and dairy if you’re depressed. That’s because B12, or cobalamin, is used by the body to produce the myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibers. When this coating breaks down, it leads to memory loss, confusion, and fatigue accompanied by depression. People with multiple sclerosis, or MS, do not make the myelin sheath that protects the nervous system.
4. Eat small portions of grains regularly. The key to balancing your brain with carbs is eat small portions (one-third to one-half cup) of complex carbs per serving combined with vitamin-rich healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil or organic butter, high-quality proteins such as pastured dairy, eggs, poultry, wild salmon, lean red meat or a vegetarian source such as nuts, legumes, fermented soybeans or tempeh.
A small serving of complex carb food helps you sleep at bedtime. Try a slice of sprouted grain bread or a cracker with a slice of cheese, a handful of low-sugar homestyle granola containing toasted oats and nuts, or one-half cup of rice and veggies as a snack to keep your glycogen (stored glucose) levels even throughout the night.
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