Lighten Your Mood Through Food

connie pretula
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Connie Pretula

Connie Pretula is an inspiring health coach and Menopause Navigator to mature women, using a holistic approach to nutrition and life.

November 13, 2015

How to naturally alleviate depression 

Depression is often described as darkness, a black hole, numbness or simply a general feeling of sadness. It often results in withdrawal from people or activities that were previously enjoyable. Unfortunately depression carries the stigma of weakness or inability to cope with life. 

Most people don’t talk about it until after they’ve recovered or are in treatment. In my personal experience, I was afraid to admit that I needed help. A friend who says “you must have something to be grateful for” can make things worse. Coming to terms with depression is especially difficult for people who are viewed by family and friends and strong and dependable. 

Recognizing triggers

The key to alleviating depression is recognizing triggers and taking steps to avoid them or minimize their impact. For example, depression rates in the northern hemisphere increase in fall due to inadequate sun exposure. The sun helps our bodies produce vitamin D, sometimes referred to as the happy or sunshine vitamin. I take vitamin D supplements from the autumnal equinox until late spring. It’s best to get advice from a naturopath, nutritionist or natural pharmacist on appropriate levels because many factors must be considered. For example, if you are of Asian descent, the upper limit on daily vitamin D is 4000 IU.

Staying active is another important component to reducing depression, so don’t let cooler weather keep you inside. In the lower mainland we are blessed to have beautiful green forests to enjoy. A twenty minute nature walk with your dog or friends is very healing for our bodies and our minds. 

Sugar and alcohol can also negatively affect your mood. Both deplete vitamins and minerals necessary for brain health. The group of B vitamins is the first used by our body in times of stress, which includes consuming sugar and alcohol.

Busy schedules and stress can also take a toll by causing digestive issues. This is often worsened by relying on processed or fast foods that are high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt. 

Parents will often do anything to get their children to eat, even if it means they are not eating the healthiest foods. Recent research points to a correlation between gut health and emotional and mental health. If our health begins in our gut, modern diets and convenience foods have likely had a major effect on our overall health – including mental health. 

If you suspect your gut is challenged, the first culprits to eliminate are wheat, dairy, refined and processed foods, alcohol, and sugar. You can cut all of these out at once but be prepared for an adjustment period of about two weeks, which may include headaches and mood changes. For some, it’s easier to gradually eliminate these items. During the elimination period, small changes can make a big difference. Focus on eating whole foods like vegetables – especially green ones since they help our bodies detoxify and eliminate waste. Seeds and nuts are also good. For example, walnuts are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which is important because our brains are made up of approximately 60% fat. Also eat lots of lentils, beans, whole grains, organic dairy, organic meats, and sustainably-caught wild cold water fish. 

Staying active and eating healthy can help reduce the winter blues. Most importantly, there are lots of ways to naturally improve mental health and you don’t need to face it on your own. If problems persist, consider a food sensitivity test administered by a naturopath or nutritionist. 

Speaking from experience, improving gut health leads to improved emotional health.

Article written for Fresh Vancouver Magazine Nov/Dec 2015

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