Balance your diet and avoid depression

In our minds, being healthy and exercising regularly can grant us another five years of life, a well-trimmed body and assures us a life without diabetes and high blood pressure. Illnesses, such as depression, are often swept under the carpet. But, Lizette Kuhn, a registered dietician at Litchi Living speaking at the Ageing Brain Conference held in Johannesburg this week,  argues differently.

Depression statistics

Depression is one of the biggest problems our society faces but is often overlooked. According to the Institute of Functional Medicine, depression is estimated to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Antidepressants are widely prescribed by doctors, yet the figures for depression continue to rise, which makes the saying: “Food is our medicine and medicine is our food” absolutely true when it comes to depression.

Depression and nutrition

According to Lizette, when we are lacking in the right quantities of vitamins and minerals from fresh, unprocessed foods, or are unable to absorb essential vitamins and minerals due to a poorly functioning body, we become more susceptible to conditions such as depression. Excessive congestion within the body, particularly in the colon, from unnatural and processed foods, that can leave us feeling lethargic, listless and emotionally out of balance. Diet can play a key role in the onset, severity and duration of depression. She suggests that we take note of the following to improve our diet and make sure we’re not prone to illnesses such as depression.


“No pill can substitute food, we cannot make food, we prepare food,” she says. It is imperative to include all food groups in our diet and not exclude any. Mediterranean diet is a good example,  as it is known to include all food groups, and is known to be the best for brain support.

The Mediterranean diet is considered to be a heart-healthy diet plan that focuses on incorporating fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, herbs, spices and olive oil into your diet, as the bottom of your pyramid of eating. The diet originated in Greece, where an average of six or more servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are served. It is one that also focuses on grains, typically whole grains.


  • Minimise your carbohydrate intake:

Lizette warns against a diet high in carbohydrates. A diet high in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates is detrimental to brain cells. Carbohydrate intake is not only an indication of uncontrolled blood glucose levels but might be an indication of depression too.

  • Take care of your gut

GutOur gut and our brain are both in constant communication with one another via the vagus nerve. In fact,  traumatic brain injury can actually cause gastrointestinal distress. This link between our brain and our gastrointestinal tract is essential in understanding the mechanisms of action involved in depression.

Lizette advises that we eat plenty of vegetables to feed the good gut flora and help our digestive system heal from the inflammation. Fruit and dark green vegetables are also high in folate which can also help with depression. Low selenium levels can also play a role in poor mood. Foods high in selenium are quality meats, seafood, nuts, and seeds.

Foods that are high in tryptophan that we want to include to help with a possible deficiency are beef and bananas. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression, especially seasonal affective disorder, so make sure you get adequate sunlight all the time, otherwise Vitamin D supplementation may be necessary.

  • Take your time while eating

A woman snacking

Digesting starts with the cephalic phase of digestion. This is the phase right before our food goes into our mouth. Make sure you relax and try to take in the aroma and delight of your food before you begin to eat. Take your time eating and enjoy every bite, and chew your food well.

Lizette Kuhn is a registered dietician who enjoys working with people and has a passion for nutrition. She holds a masters degree in dietetics, which she obtained from the University of Pretoria in 2011. Based on sound scientific principles, Lizette consults in general conditions such as weight loss, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, insulin resistance and gut problems.