By - Dr. Meg Haworth
Everybody gets depressed at some time or another. Feeling the blues is a normal part of life that everyone must grapple with. But feeling depressed can turn your life into a living nightmare when it persists long term and affects everything you do.
There are numerous types of depression but there are some commonly known ones. Persistent depressive disorder (once known as dysthymia) is a chronic low-grade depression that most sufferers describe as feeling as though they are in a fog most or all the time. Major depression in which people lose interest in life in general and bi-polar disorder are the more serious and potentially debilitating types.
Some people have situational depression that comes on while in a difficult and incredibly challenging life situation. Most often the depressive feelings lift when removed from the situation of extreme stress.
There are many things that can lead to depression and, believe it or not, one of them is the food you eat. Food is often overlooked and undervalued in medical communities when it comes to treating depression. Nutrition is not the first line priority in western medicine. In fact, doctors do not take nutrition classes in medical school. They talk about nutrition as it relates to specific diseases like diabetes or heart disease but that is it.
You may be wondering how food could possibly affect your mood. The latest science in neurobiology (brain science) and psychoneuroimmunology (mind-body medicine) have conducted studies on the connection between the gut and the brain (known as the gut-brain axis) revealing that one part does not function without the other. The two are connected by a complex system of nerves and healthy bacteria in your gut that communicate with your brain ultimately affecting your mood. Ultra-processed foods and certain chemicals kill much needed gut bacteria and send signals to the brain that can dramatically impact your mood.
Among the diseases linked to your food mood connection are schizophrenia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, and bi-polar disorder. The food you eat may be exactly what you need to assess to heal your history of depression. Here are five foods that may be causing or exacerbating your depression.
1. Gluten. This protein found in wheat barley and rye has gotten a bum rap in recent years and rightfully so. In the US particularly, this grain has become one of the most controversial and potentially toxic foods we eat. The reason lies mainly in the farming practices used to grow and process this grain.
According to Dr. William Davis, M.D., author of Wheat Belly, wheat plants have been genetically modified to yield significantly more grain per acre and the genetics of the plant have doubled in chromosomes from 14 per plant to 28. This means that the gluten content has doubled.
Wheat crops are soaked with carcinogenic glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) to ripen the grains faster. Glyphosate has been found to weaken the gut-brain axis by destroying healthy gut bacteria eventually affecting your mood.
The over processing of wheat using bleach and potassium bromide (a known carcinogen) to make the flour whiten faster and give your dough a fluffier lighter rise has had adverse consequences on human health. These chemicals have been linked to depression and other mood disorders too.
Studies have also shown that a gluten-free diet can help the body produce more serotonin known as the feel-good neurotransmitter and dopamine known for helping you feel more motivated. This alone can contribute to significantly elevating your mood and alleviating or even eliminating depression.
2. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). This food chemical is an excitotoxin. It basically makes your brain cells explode creating adverse effects on your nervous system. It has been shown to have an addictive effect on the brain. It signals you to want more and more of the flavor enhancing properties of this food chemical.
MSG is hidden under dozens of different ingredient names. Some more popular ones are autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. It can be found in popular brands of chips, pizza crusts, soups, salad dressings, and boxed and bagged ultra-processed snacks.
Consuming MSG has been linked to brain fog, anxiety, depression, dizziness, fatigue, numbness, tingling, chest pains and nausea. Eliminating this one ingredient can help you improve your mood and overall health.
3. Dairy Products. The protein casein found in cow’s milk has been shown to have adverse chemical effects on the brain that have been linked to depression and other mood disorders. Much like gluten, dairy products have been farmed with toxic chemicals that could be more strongly associated with behavioral problems in humans.
If you carry a specific blood protein known as an antibody, studies have shown that you may be anywhere from 3-8 times more likely to develop a mood disorder like bi-polar depression and mania from consuming dairy products that include milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, or butter. Contrary to popular belief, eggs are not a dairy product so you may be just fine to continue consuming them.
Casomorphin, a compound found in the protein casein has been found to produce opiate like effects on the brain. This further contributes to both the potential of addiction to foods with casein and the possibility of causing or worsening your depression.
4. Food Chemicals. There are over ten thousand chemicals in our food supply that are designed to preserve, color, thicken, keep separation from occurring, and to enhance flavor.
Among the food chemicals most often associated with depression are food colorings like tartrazine (FD&C yellow number 5) and Allura Red AC. They have been linked to mood disorders and asthma. These dyes are found in colored candies, cookies, sodas, and other processed foods.
Many parents of young children have reported a sudden and extreme shift in mood once their child has consumed foods with dyes. If you are eating foods with dyes in them, simply eliminating them may be what is needed to help your problems with depression.
5. Cane Sugar. In a Princeton study, cane sugar was declared as potentially addictive as street drugs like cocaine and heroin. The study showed that the telltale signs of addiction – cravings and obsession followed by withdrawals – were exhibited when large quantities of sugar were consumed then taken away. Depression soon followed a spike in serotonin and dopamine that produced a high that eventually resulted in a depressive crash.
You may not know how sugar is affecting you unless you cut it out for at least a month. Its connection to irritability, depression, elevated anger response, and mood swings has long been established and is best detailed in Nancy Appleton’s classic book Lick the Sugar Habit.
6. Alcohol. Long known as a depressant, this food can send a person into a depressive spiral that lasts for decades. While people often feel that happy buzzed feeling while drinking wine, beer, or liquor, they end up with a potential myriad of mental symptoms that can include self-pity, poor choices, and suicidal thinking. Many people report that all these symptoms lift within a few months after ceasing to drink alcohol altogether.
Addiction to alcohol is a profoundly serious matter. It can lead to many health problems including mental illness. There are numerous organizations and treatment centers that can help you end your reliance upon alcohol so you can begin to mend the feelings of despair, hopelessness, and depression.
While reading this article you may be thinking that the foods mentioned here are all you are eating and how in the world would you be able to stop consuming all the foods you love? If these are, in fact, all the things you are eating, then eliminating these food items may be what you must do to heal your depression. It may be overwhelming to cut out these foods, but it is far worse to live with depression and other mood disorders that may be related to the foods you are eating.
Today there are numerous nutritionists, books, websites, and organizations that can help you eliminate the foods that could be causing your depression. Access to recipes online as well as food guides, grocery lists and tips are endless. Many restaurants are also now familiar with a food sensitivity lifestyle.
There are some things that will help you along in your quest to eat food that is both nourishing and delicious. One thing you can do is to focus on what you can have rather than what you cannot have. Simply put, those foods are mainly organic vegetables, fruits, meat, chicken, fish, duck, lamb and eggs. When you consistently seek out foods that support healing your depression, you will feel more empowered to keep eating well.
You may find that you have great resistance to trying a new way of eating. This is perfectly normal. It is difficult to change the way you eat – especially when you must change everything you love. Food is something that we bond over with our families and cultures so there is a deep emotional connection to what we eat.
The good news is that today there are tons of options to help you get on a different eating track. There are many ingredient and product swaps available. For instance, if you love challah bread, there is a gluten free version. If you adore Lasagna and pizza, there are also great gluten and dairy free options (just be careful of crust ingredients with MSG). If you eat a lot of soy sauce (the main ingredient is wheat), then find gluten free options in tamari, coconut aminos, and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos all available at most grocery stores.
When you must change what you eat so you get well, you will have many challenges that can include withdrawal symptoms as you eliminate the offending foods that may be causing your depression. Some of the symptoms can include dizziness, headaches, and increased irritability. Just know that these symptoms will not last long. Your body will have to detoxify itself as you experience withdrawal symptoms from the chemicals and proteins that are causing your depression.
Just keep your eye on the prize as you remember that you are working on healing your longstanding problems with depression and other mood issues. It took years to create the problem, but it can take just a few months to reverse it. Keep your eye on the prize, a life without depression.
It is suggested to try the elimination of these foods for at least a month. In that time, you should see significant changes in your depression symptoms. If you are looking for step by step help with this, as a celebrity chef with food allergies that led to depression, I know personally what it is like to have and heal this problem and I have led thousands to do the same. Check out my easy online program, 21 Days to Healthy Eating to get you free of foods that are making you depressed.
About the Author
Dr. Meg Haworth offers holistic wellness solutions for abuse survivors with chronic illnesses using food and the power of the mind. As a nutritional chef to celebrities, she wrote her cookbook, Done with Dairy. Giving up Gluten. And her online program 21 Days to Healthy Eating. Click this link to learn more about her work and how you can also get access her free recipe book Anti-Inflammatory Lunch Recipes for People on The Go.
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