Statement released by WHO, 4 April 2017 – Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.

What is depression:

Depression is a mental disorder where the balance of certain hormones in the brain is influenced. It is characterised by feelings of worthlessness or guilt, poor concentration, loss of energy, fatigue, thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with death, loss or increase of appetite and weight, a disturbed sleep pattern, slowing down (both physically and mentally) or agitation (restlessness or anxiety).


A Mediterranean diet has been recently proven to help combat the effect and duration of depression. The following macro- and micro nutrients can help to improve your mood, prevent weight gain or weight loss (symptom of depression) and increase energy levels.






Carbohydrates assist with the entry of tryptophan (a feel good hormone) into the brain, which in turn has an effect on the neurotransmitters in the brain. Low GI food options (fruit, vegetables, whole grains) provide a moderate but lasting effect on brain chemistry, mood and energy levels when compared to high GI food options (sweets, processed carbohydrates) which has a quick but temporary effect.



Essential Amino Acids (EAA) derived from protein, plays an important role in the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Good source of protein include meat (red meat, chicken and fish), dairy and eggs as well as legumes (beans and lentils), soya, tofu, nuts and seeds and certain vegetables. A high biological value protein is usually found in animal sources of protein. Plant sources can often lack a few EAA, but including a variety of plant sources can eliminate this problem. A lack of EAA can lead to decreased synthesis of neurotransmitters; dopamine (a neurotransmitter) is made from tyrosine (an EAA).


Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

Our brain is the organ with the highest level of lipids (fat). It is estimated that gray matter contains at least 50% polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that should be supplied through the diet. PUFA docosahexanoic acid (DHA), derived from an omega 3 fatty acid known as  arachdonic acid (AA) has a beneficial effect on brain health. According to research DHA and AA cannot be synthesized by mammals and needs to be ingested through the diet. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 plays a very important role in mental health and should be 2-4:1. Sources of Omega 6 include poultry, eggs, nuts, most vegetable oils and whole grain breads. Sources high in omega are flaxseed, sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon and tuna.

Omega 6 is readily available in most foods that we consume on a daily basis, but omega 3 fatty acids however lack in our daily diet, as we do not consume enough sources high in omega 3





Vitamin B complex:

Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Sources include dark green leafy vegetables, fortified whole grain products, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, lentils, nuts such as almonds and pecans and dairy products (milk, yoghurt and cheeses).


Vitamin D:

Some studies that show there is an association between depression and a vitamin D deficiency. There are three ways to increase vitamin D in your body;


  • Through the diet; only a small group of food contains vitamin D
  • Sun exposure; it can lead to our body producing vitamin D. We only need a few minutes of exposure on a big area of our skin like our back to produce enough vitamin D
  • Supplementation; variety available at pharmacies



Zinc is needed for the body’s immune system to function properly. It plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. It is also needed for the senses of smell and taste. Studies show that people diagnosed with depression have low levels of zinc. Main food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat and poultry. Other good food sources include beans, nuts, certain types of seafood (such as crab and lobster), whole grains, fortified whole grain products and dairy products.



Selenium is a trace element that is only needed in small amounts. It plays an integrate role in the making certain proteins called antioxidants. Antioxidants play an important role in preventing cell damage. A study published by the University of Otago showed that young people with both high and low levels of selenium were at greater risk of developing depression. Sources of selenium include tuna, sardines, nuts, beef and chicken



Making some basic dietary adaptations can help you to include all of the above mentioned nutrients into your daily diet:

  • Use whole grain starches, rather than processed options
    • Include at least one whole grain carbohydrate source at every meal
  • Aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
    • Rather eat fruit and vegetables raw as cooking them can damage certain nutrients
  • Include at least one good protein source with every meal
    • Alternate between the different sources available on the market – have beef, lamb, fish, poultry, pork, eggs and legumes on alternative days
  • Use high biological value protein sources like eggs, meat and dairy once a day
    • If you are vegan – use a variety of plant based protein sources
  • Increase intake of oily fish and flaxseeds or flaxseed oils.
  • Choose healthy snack options
    • Nuts, yoghurt, fruit and vegetables are good choices
  • Consume low-fat dairy products regularly
    • Alternate between low-fat milk, plain low-fat yoghurt and various cheeses (cottage cheese, mozzarella)


Depression is a serious mental condition and should be treated by a qualified health practitioner. Should you like to know more on lifestyle changes and depression, contact us.