The Often Overlooked Answer for Depression

 

Sometimes life can get you down, but there may be a very simple reason as to why one person can immediately go home to update their resume after losing their job and another person needs some couch time and ice cream for a week or ten. The answer… studies show you might need more vitamins!

  • Five or more studies have shown that people with depression have low levels of zinc. (Source.)
  • A 2004 study showed that women who had depression also had low levels of vitamin B6 and a 2008 study found that low levels of B6 in elders was associated with depression.
  • A 2003 study showed that men who had depression also had low levels of folate in their diet. In particular, 500 mcg of folic acid has been shown to increase the efficacy of antidepressant medications, especially in women. (Source.) For decreasing depression symptoms without antidepressant medications, it is estimated that .8 mg folic acid daily should be effective. (Source.)
  • Two studies (2003, 2005) have found a link between depression and low levels of chromium, particularly in overweight or obese people. (Source.)
  •  Several sources cite magnesium deficiency as a leading nutritional deficiency associated with depression and suggest that recovery from major depression can occur in fewer than 7 days with magnesium treatment. (Source and Source.)

Getting the Vitamins Naturally

Obviously you can get a daily supplement that can provide you with the necessary vitamins, and for many that may be the best route. Of course, be sure to check with your health care provider before taking any supplements, especially if you are taking any medications – that’s not just a disclaimer, it’s really important! Some vitamins interact with certain medications!

However, if you would prefer to get your vitamins through food, here’s what you need to know.

Zinc

The recommended daily value for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women according to The National Institute of Health. No more than 30 mg per day should be taken by men or women as there can be side effects from excess zinc intake.

The graphic to the left lists the amount of miligrams of zinc per 100 grams, which is the weight of the food, so the amount needed of each item to get a 100 gram serving will vary. Here’s the amounts:

  • According to Cookipedia, 1/2 cup of oysters weighs just over 100 grams (about 112) and that would be a much larger serving than the amount of a normal Oyster Rockafeller appetizer at a restaurant or even a can of oysters from the supermarket.
  • There are about 28 grams in an ounce, so a 100 gram serving of beef, king crab, lobster, or baking chocolate (all of which are usually measured in ounces) would be about 3.5 ounces.
  • According to Tess Ward, a 100 gram serving of sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds would be about 2/3 cup.
  • According to The Kitchn, a 100 gram serving of eggs would be about 2 medium eggs.

Vitamin B6

The recommended daily value for vitamin B6 is 1.3 mg for both men and women according to The National Institute of Health. No more than 80 mg per day should be taken by men or women as there can be side effects from excess B6 intake.

As you can see from the graphic to the left, there are several easy ways to get more B6 in your diet:

  • Add peppers to your food, preferably pasilla, ancho or sweet red peppers.
  • Snack on pistachios or sunflower seeds.
  • Have fish for dinner, specifically yellowfin tuna or wild salmon.
  • Double up on your nutrients with some shiitake mushrooms (on the top lists for both zinc and B6)!

Just as with the zinc graphic above, 100 grams of each food refers to the weight of the food, so the amount needed of each item to get a 100 gram serving will vary.

  • According to Tess Ward, a 100 gram serving of pistachios is just under 1 cup (4/5 cup), and a 100 gram serving of sunflower seeds is 2/3 of a cup.
  • Servings of the meats listed (beef liver, ground turkey, yellowfin tuna, or wild salmon) can be converted to ounces: about 3.5 ounces of each would be the full recommended daily value of B6.

Folate

The recommended daily value for zinc is 400 mcg for both men and women according to The National Institute of Health. No more than 800 mcg per day should be taken by men or women as there can be side effects from excess folate intake.

Leavening agents, such as yeast, contain very high levels of folate. However, such a small amount is used in baking, that there is very little folate to be had from it. There is 2340 mcg of folate in 100 grams of active dry baker’s yeast, which equates to 23.4 mcg per gram, or the approximate equivalent of yeast used in one loaf of bread (at 12 slices per loaf, that would be about 2 mcg of folate per slice).

The best source of folate is beans. Some beans have more than others, but in general, if it’s a bean, it’s a good source of folate so eat up. Just can’t stand beans? Here are some other good food sources of folate —>

Chromium

The recommended daily value for chromium is 35 mcg for men and 25 mcg for women ages 19-50 according to The National Institute of Health.  Those over age 50 need 5 mcg less daily. A supplement of chromium could interfere with certain medications, such as insulin, corticosteriods, antacids, NSAIDS, beta-blockers and more, so be sure to consult your doctor before taking any supplement if you are on medication.

Unfortunately, chromium is not listed in the USDA food nutrition database and with further searching online, it became apparent why: although most foods contain some chromium, the amounts are so small that while you can probably meet your recommended daily intake of chromium naturally, trying to increase the amount of chromium you’re getting through food would require you simply to eat more food. However, there are a few good options to naturally get more chromium in your diet:

  • Broccoli – about 65% recommended daily value for chromium in 1 cup
  • Grape juice – about 50% recommended daily value for chromium in 1 cup
  • Oats – about  30% recommended daily value for chromium in 1/2 cup
  • Red wine – ranges

Just as red wines are incredibly diverse in flavor, so is their chromium content. The chromium content in a glass of red wine ranges from virtually insignificant to more than broccoli. Due to this, it would be best not to rely on red wine alone for increasing your chromium. It would just be best to do what your mother told you and eat your broccoli.

Sources: The World’s Healthiest Foods, & National Institutes of Health

There are lots of tasty ways to get more broccoli:

  • Broccoli and cheese soup is always available at Panera.
  • A restaurant that serves bread with an oil and herb dip like Bonefish Grill or Carrabba’s, order the steamed broccoli and pour the oil and herb dip over it (delicious).
  • Toss some florets into the stir fry.
  • Add to pizza.
  • Cut off the little leaves (remove the stems from each floret) and the leaves can discreetly be added to virtually anything: smoothies, alfredo sauce, hummus dip, salad, salsa, etc.

If you absolutely can’t eat broccoli, there is another way to help increase your chromium intake: stainless steel. What makes the steel “stainless” is that it regularly develops and replenishes a coating over its surface which protects it, and that coating is made up of chromium. By using a stainless steel drinking cup or a stainless steel cooking pan, chromium will naturally be added to your diet. However, nickel is also added to the diet from the use of stainless steel kitchenware, so if you are sensitive to nickel or if you eat a lot of peanuts or peas (which contain high amounts of nickel), you may want to reconsider broccoli. (Source: PubMed Central)

Magnesium

The recommended daily value for magnesium is 400-420 mg for men, depending on age (men under 30 needing 400 and over 30 needing 420), abd 310-320 mg for women, also depending on age (women under 30 needing 310 mg and over 30 needing 320 mg) according to to The National Institute of Health.

From the looks of the food list to the left, magnesium is a great excuse to indulge in some hot chocolate (made with real cocoa powder of course), or just any chocolate really. Maybe that’s why chocolate is a go-to for people who are sad. Unfortunately the serving size is so small (probably only about 5 grams per cup of hot chocolate), so more steps would need to be taken to get a good magnesium boost.

Some stores, health food stores in particular, carry chocolate covered pumpkin seeds, more commonly called chocolate covered pepitas, which is the spanish word for pumpkin seed. I’ve personally eaten them (a lot) and they’re delicious. Definitely a tasty way to double-down on magnesium ingredients. Or, if pumpkin seeds aren’t your thing, Godiva makes a pack of chocolate covered cashews that looks delicious (and probably is since it’s Godiva).

Although the foods on the list to the left are very high in magnesium, the number 1 highest food source listed in the USDA Food Compositions Databases is actually a spice: dried basil. Several other spices were very high on the list as well, so be sure to check out the section below on spices.

Other Foods That Can Help

  • Omega-3s may also help to lower depression, especially in those taking anti-depressant medications. (Source.) Some great sources of omega-3s are fatty fish (salmon, sardines, etc.), hemp seeds (toss them on salads, oatmeal, ice cream, etc.), and flax seeds (can often be found in grain products marketed as healthy, such as granola bars, cereals, breads, and so on).
  • Amino acids can decrease the symptoms of depression, particularly the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine. (Source, pages 2 and 4.) Some great sources of various amino acids are eggs and hemp seeds.
  • Clinical trial results showed that .4 mg daily of vitamin B12 can lower depression symptoms. (Source.) Food sources of B12 are mostly limited to meat products. In particular, clams, liver, oysters, mussles, king crab and salmon are great B12 sources. The main non-meat sources are fortified cereals and snack bars. However, the vitamin is made naturally in our bodies by the bacteria in our intestines, where it is then reabsorbed, so taking a probiotic might aid natural B12 production. A great example of this is milk kefir, which as you can read on the label, already contains B12 that has been produced by the good bacteria in it.

Spice Things Up

There are a lot of nutrients in common cooking spices. Although the amount of spice used is often so small that you don’t get enough of the nutrients to meet your daily requirement, every little bit helps. For example, the Recommended Daily Amount of zinc for women is 8mg and 11mg for men, and since basil contains 7.1 mg per 100 grams, a typical 1 gram serving of basil sprinkled over pasta or over a caprece salad would add 8.8% RDA for a woman and 6.4% for a man. Most spice servings won’t yield quite as good of results as that, but again, every little bit counts and change (and spice!) can have other benefits for depression as well.

The graphic to the left shows a few spices that are particularly good sources of the nutrients listed above. Sprinkle them over your salad or sandwich. Use them as a dry rub or marinade for your meat. Mix them into your sauces. Have a cup of spearmint tea. There are lots of great ways to spice things up!

Creating a Menu

Go through each of the food lists above and pick your favorites from each list. Try to incorporate at least one food from each list into your diet daily, and be sure to eat the amount needed of course as well. Here are a few ideas:

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal with hemp seeds (and anything else you’d like to add: a dash of cinnamon, some dried cranberries, a handful of pistachios, etc.)
  • A 2 egg omlet with broccoli, a bean of your choice (I’d pick French beans, edamame or maybe navy beans), and anything else you like.
  • Broccoli and shiitake mushroom quiche: make in advance and simply warm for breakfast each morning. For convenience, a pre-made pic crust can be used (often available in the freezer section at grocery stores).
  • Salmon (and cream cheese) bagel

Lunch:

A cup of grape juice would be a great drink to include in your lunch menu. For something a bit fancier, get sparkling grape juice, which is just carbonated to be more like a soda.

  • A salmon salad with some raw mung beans tossed in and avocado (and anything else you’d like to add: cucumber, onion, etc.). Lemon dressing pairs well with salmon salad.
  • A roast beef sandwich with raw mung beans and whatever other additions you like (mustard, pickles, etc.)
  • A bean veggie burger
  • Tuna sushi with avocado and/or carrots
  • Broccoli cheddar soup and a Mediterranean veggie sandwich at Panera

Dinner

  • Any of the meats listed above: beef (any kind), lobster, king crab, oysters, ground turkey, tuna, goose, and/or any of the beans listed above (can be mashed to make a bean veggie burger), paired with a side of stir fry veggies (broccoli, peppers, shallots, French beans, corn, etc.) and either a sweet potato or regular potato, which could be sweet potato fries, baked potato, mashed, etc., or if you really want some pasta, get one of the vegetable pastas (the three veggie blend, etc.) – you might need to go to a health food store for those. If you haven’t been to one yet, check out the guide 10 Things to Know About Going to a Health Food Store.
  • Mexican food is a great way to add in more beans to your diet as they cook with them often – try to add peppers to whatever you get.
  • A bowl of lentil soup with carrots in it and a side of cornbread
  • A stuffed pepper (stuff with beans, shallots, and anything else that might be good)
  • A frozen pizza with your own toppings added (broccoli, French beans, shiitake mushrooms, peppers, etc.) and some oregano sprinkled on top.

Snacks or Desserts

  • A glass of milk kefir (there are various flavors – look for them in the yogurt section).
  • Pistachio frozen yogurt
  • Cookies made with bakers chocolate and/or oats
  • Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or pistachios
  • There surprisingly wasn’t any fruit on the lists above, so don’t forget to add in something fruity to your diet for other nutrients you need in general like antioxidants and vitamin C: a mandarin orange is easy to eat on the go or a kiwi is a nice treat. *Did you know that eating strawberries helps to whiten your teeth! Bonus points for eating strawberries.

Of course, you don’t have to eat something from each section of this menu every day, and really, you maybe shouldn’t: don’t want to get too much of something, as stated above, excess vitamins can cause problems as well. These are just a few ideas to help you get started.

Watch Out for MSG

Just as you want to incorporate more things in your diet that give you the nutrients needed to fight depression, you might want to also make sure the foods you’re currently eating aren’t contributing to that depression. Check out the article: Have Headaches? Depression? It Might Be Your Chips or Salad Dressing! (There are other things listed besides chips and salad dressing as well!)

A Bedtime Drink May Help Too

Several studies have shown that sleeping longer and getting better quality of sleep can reduce depression. (Sources: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and PubMed Central) An easy way to improve your sleep? Drinking a glass of chamomile tea might help you nod off more quickly. (I’ve tried it and can confirm it works for me every time.) Another option is to drink a glass of milk, though there haven’t been any studies done on the old addage of having milk before bed aiding sleep. I’ve tried that one out several times as well and have had mixed results: sometimes it works like a charm and other times it doesn’t do a thing. Your best bet would be the tea, which has much better (and documented) results. Plus, chamomile has lots of other great health benefits for your body too: it works as an anti-inflammatory, helps fight stomach woes, and might even help to prevent cancer. (Source.)

To get better quality of sleep, make sure your bedroom is very dark: no night lights, no street lights shining through the window, etc. Light interferes with the pineal gland’s production of melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep/wake cycle and stimulates the release of HGH (human growth hormone), which is needed for lots of body functions (liver, heart, metabolism, etc.). There are a few foods you can eat to get more melatonin in your diet too ~ eat them before bedtime to get the most sleep benefit: pistachios, mushrooms, green bean juice, and black pepper have extremely high levels of melatonin. (Source.)

Caution

Again, if you are currently being treated for depression by a medical professional or if you are taking any medications at all for any health problem, please consult your doctor before using any of the advice here.

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