Mental Health Awareness Week

Expert view: How diet reversed my depression

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

istock | kieferpix
istock | kieferpix
A plant-based nutritionist revealed at Vitafood last week how changing her diet reversed the depression that caused chronic health issues throughout her childhood.

Julie Ward, founder of Fresh Food Alchemy, works to help others to embrace a plant-based diet that supports the body and mind after she overcame years of depression with the help of diet adaptations.

Ward revealed to delegates that she was a very ‘depressed’ child growing up and through her teen years, which she has attributed to her genes, but she also suffered chronic constipation and she always felt there was a link between her gut and her mind.

She said these thoughts are now being explained by studies.

“There’s new research coming out now, which I love, which is showing that serotonin – the happy hormone - is produced in your gut and this is helping explain the links between gut health and depression.

“A study by Koloski et al from 2016 showed that those with anxiety were more likely to have IBS and those with IBS were more likely to have depression.

“I, for one, am very excited by this knowledge because I feel like the feelings I had growing up are finally being confirmed.

“It’s been found that prolonged consumption of high fat meals can increase risk of inflammation related chronic diseases and prolonged psychological stress can activate the same pro-inflammatory markers as fat.

“So poor diet is a risk factor for depression and gastrointestinal problems can be a precurser to depression.”

Grumpy grub

Ward told delegates the foods to avoid are those with Arachidonic acid as this is a pro inflammatory and the two main sources for this are chicken and eggs.

“I personally believe this has a clear effect on our bodies,"​ she said.  "I had given up eggs for many years when I accidentally and unknowingly ate a cake with egg in it.

"The next day I woke up with sore knees and I had no idea why. When I realised the cake I’d eaten had egg in it I knew that was the reason.”

The good stuff

Speaking about what foods we should eat more, Ward said studies have shown dietary fibre is associated with less depressive symptoms (Xu et al, 2018) and polyphenols - found in foods such as tea, wine, chocolates, fruits, vegetables, and extra virgin olive oil – have been shown to act against psychiatric and cognitive distress.

She also pointed out an evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression (LaChance. L. R and Ramsey. D, 2018) which listed the top antidepressant foods as: Spinach, mustards, lettuces, swiss chard, fresh herbs, chicory greens, pummelo, peppers, collards, pumpkin, dandelion greens and broccoli.

These are foods she eats as much as possible by blending into tasty smoothies.

She explained to delegates that the 'Aha! moment' came to her when she gave up red meat in 1987 and felt better, but decided that wasn’t enough and slowly cut all meat, fish, dairy and eggs from her diet. 

Alongside other simple lifestyle adjustments, such as spending more time exercising in the countryside, she believes her plant-based diet is a huge reason for her new-found happiness.  

"Once I made radical changes to my diet I was able to overcome my digestive issues, and depression, which I had been battling most of my life.  I now have more focus and joy in my life than I ever thought possible." 

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