As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Never is that truer than when you’re pregnant or nursing– for both you and your baby. Pregnancy and new parenthood is a time to really focus on taking the best care of yourself since you’re now providing for two (or more!). Yet, even with the best intentions, many women struggle with being healthy when dealing with perinatal depression. 10-20% of women experience depression during pregnancy (antepartum depression), while according to Postpartum Support International, 1in 8 women suffer from postpartum depression. Thankfully, there are many treatment options available including therapy, medication and support groups. (Please talk to your health care provider). But what about the foods you eat? Using food as “medicine” by increasing your diet with natural mood boosters is one piece of the treatment puzzle to consider. What to put on your plate? Read on…
Get Your Omega-3’s
According to mental health expert Pec Indman, EdD, MFT, recent studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can help with prenatal depression. In addition to your supplements (just be sure they’re free of contamination with PCBs), increase your intake of foods rich in omega-3 oils such as walnuts, omega-3 fortified eggs and flaxseed oil (add this oil to your morning smoothie or in your salads). Fish, such as wild salmon, is also a great resource of these essential fatty acids, which are also important for your baby’s brain development. Just be sure to steer clear of fish high in mercury such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel. According to the Mayo Clinic, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces a week of salmon.
This dairy delight has high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid. (You know – the same thing that makes you feel so groovy after that Thanksgiving turkey.) Plus, it’s rich in calcium – perfect for your baby’s growing bones!
Pop a couple of these nuts in your mouth each day, as they are high in the “feel good” mineral selenium
This breakfast powerhouse is high in soluble fiber, slows down sugar absorption and produces serotonin – a type of chemical, or neurotransmitter, that can improve your mood. It’s a great way to get your day started on the right foot.
Milk or Soy Milk
Choose milk or soymilk fortified with vitamin D, which increase the levels of serotonin. (Then go outside for a walk in the natural sunlight for 10-20 minutes, and you’re good to go with getting your daily vitamin D. Just be sure to wear your sunscreen!)
No need to focus on a low-carb diet. Enjoy your complex carbs such as starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta as these are also known to produce serotonin.
Kale, Spinach and Other Dark, Leafy Greens
These powerhouse veggies contain folate, a natural source of the vitamin B group, known to affect the neurotransmitters that affect our mood. Folic acid helps to make dopamine (a pleasure neurotransmitter), plus, it’s extremely important for all pregnant women to get plenty of folate (and it’s synthetic form folic acid) to help prevent brain and spinal cord birth defects in the baby, so eat up!
Just like leafy greens, these legumes are high in vitamin B and are an excellent source of folate. Studies have found that a folate deficiency has been linked to depression. Folate helps to make the neurotransmitter dopamine, which promotes pleasure.
Not only are bananas delicious, they are also high in vitamin B6. As mentioned above, B vitamins produce the calming neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Not only a great source of protein (important for all pregnant women), almonds are high in magnesium, which helps promote the production of the neurotransmitter GABA associated with pleasure.
Thank goodness this is on the list! Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, is good for your heart, and is oh-so-tasty. But dark chocolate doesn’t stop there. It also raises serotonin levels in the brain, providing a mood-elevating effect.
So, eat up on these delicious mood-boosting foods, in addition to considering additional options to caring for perinatal depression, and remember – talk to your health care provider about any questions or concerns about your health.