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November 1, 2001

Fighting depression with food

Weeks of unrelenting news about terrorist attacks, war and anthrax scares, have left people feeling stressed out and depressed. Instead of heading to the pharmacy for relief they might want to try the kitchen first, says Susan Algert, a California State University, Sacramento family and consumer sciences professor and registered dietician.

"What people eat and when they eat it can affect the way they feel," she says. "Eating the right foods at the right times can increase stamina, improve mood and outlook and enhance immunity."

Algert notes that the country is dealing with dramatic change and people wonder if they're capable of adapting. "But," she says, "Diet is something that they can control. And it can have an impact."

To help counteract depression, Algert recommends a low-fat diet featuring lean protein during the day and carbohydrates at night along with plenty of fruits, vegetable and whole grains, and lots of water. Lean, high-protein foods like eggs, dairy, lean meats, fish, poultry and legumes, boost the immune system and increase the production of dopamine in the body which makes people more alert and energized. Carbohydrates produce serotonin which can calm and relax.

Algert also recommends taking supplements, when necessary, to boost performance. Certain key nutrients, including magnesium, Vitamin B6, zinc and Vitamin E assist with metabolism and can help reduce stress.

Acknowledging that not everyone can cook every day, Algert says that there are easy ways to get the necessary protein and carbohydrates. "Breakfast could be low-fat dairy or soy like yogurt or a smoothie," she says. "For a snack have nuts, cheese sticks, a protein bar or a juice-based protein drink. Lunch could be a sandwich of lean turkey, tuna or egg salad made with egg whites, tofu, fish, cottage cheese or peanut butter.

She also recommends having a small evening meal featuring some protein and an 8 p.m. snack like crackers with milk, fruit, a salad with cottage cheese or pasta with a little cheese.

And, she adds, "Cookies and milk never hurts."

Algert also recommends including foods that contain stress-reducing nutrients. Magnesium and Vitamin B6, for example, are co-factors in the production of serotonin. Magnesium is found in whole grains, dark green vegetables, nuts, legumes and chocolate, in moderation. Vitamin B6 is present in lean meat, fish and poultry, legumes such as soy and non-citrus fruits. Zinc, which helps with immune function, is in meat, fish and poultry, whole grains and vegetables. And Vitamin E, which protects against oxidative damage to tissues, is found in unprocessed plant oils, leafy green vegetables, whole grains and wheat germ.

More information is available by contacting the CSUS public affairs office at (916) 278-6156.


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