So you are feeling depressed.

Getting out of bed is hard enough and maybe coffee is all you can handle in the morning. By the time lunch rolls around you are tired and preparing a sandwich and chips is all you can do.

I get it. When depression sets in, many of us typically have no appetite or we are eating crazy amounts of easy to grab food that provides calories and helps us shut out feelings, but has no nutritional value whatsoever.

Well, research has made the connection between what we eat and how we feel. A healthy diet – you know the drill – filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can actually prevent depression. An unhealthy diet – high in processed and refined foods increases the risk for depression in all age groups. Now recent studies show that a healthy diet may not only help prevent depression, but is an important part of an effective treatment it once it’s started.

Maybe you have heard the phrase, “you are what you eat.” It refers to eating clean food to build a strong heart, a healthy body and offer us some protections from physical illnesses. We don’t usually think about food nourishing our brain, but heck, that organ deserves our full attention! “When we think of cardiac health, we think of strengthening an organ, the heart,” says Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist in New York, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia and author of “Eat Complete.” “We need to start thinking of strengthening another organ, the brain, when we think of mental health.” A bad diet makes depression worse, failing to provide the brain with the variety of nutrients it needs.”

There are many causes of depression – genetic, situational, environmental. But when we are struggling with a mood disorder like depression, our brain has been affected. Basically our brain has become unhealthy. And it is not just our brain – our gut plays a role too. Our gut is considered our second brain and today, there is so much information about “gut health.” Lisa Mosconi, a neuroscientist, nutritionist and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York says

The good and bad bacteria in our gut have complex ways to communicate with our brain and change our mood. We need to maximize the good bacteria and minimize the bad.

So will changing what is on my plate replace therapy or medication for treatment of depression? Not necessarily, but at the very least, if you are at risk for depression, it is best to pay attention to the food you eat.

What are you supposed to eat to help beat depression?

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, experts say it’s important to eat a balanced, Mediterranean-style diet. But some nutrients are particularly helpful. Here are some examples, and which foods supply them.

  • Vitamin B6: An ingredient needed to produce serotonin, the main neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep. Too little serotonin is associated with depression. We need Vitamin B6 every day from our diet.
    Sources: Pistachios. Garlic. Salmon and tuna. Chicken. Spinach. Cabbage. Bananas. Sweet potatoes. Avocados. Whole grains.
  • DHA: The main omega-3 fat in the brain. It promotes production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a hormone that protects neurons and promotes the birth of new brain cells.
    Sources: Wild salmon. Oysters. Anchovies. Mackerel. Mussels.
  • Prebiotics: Foods that the good microbes in our gut need to stay alive.
    Sources: Onions. Asparagus. Artichokes. Garlic. Bananas. Oats.
  • Probiotics: Live bacteria and yeasts that replenish the good bacteria in our microbiome.
    Sources: Yogurt. Sauerkraut. Kefir. Kimchi or other fermented vegetables, such as turnips, cucumbers or carrots.

Are you willing to try this out and see if you notice a change? Remember it typically takes 21 days to notice a change. Here’s to better health, both physically and mentally.