Phytonutrients for depression – colours for your mood

Mood follows food: there are so many ways to use nutrition to feel better mentally. Paying attention to phytonutrients can be one such way. Read on to find out what they are and why they matter.
phytonutrients for depression

Phytonutrients for depression-what does that even mean? It sounds very complicated but isn’t really. 

Phytonutrients are made by plants (phyto=plants). They are compounds that plants naturally make to help protect them against things like insects or UV rays from the sun. Sometimes people also call them phytochemicals.

It’s a pretty amazing and sophisticated way for the plant for protect itself.

A lot of these phytonutrients are also what give a plant its colour, or taste or smell. So as you can imagine, there are many different types of phytonutrients.

So again, plants make phytonutrients naturally as a method of protection. And here’s what’s even better: 

By eating these plants, we humans can get the benefits of phytonutrients as well

the benefits of eating foods rich in phytonutrients

So if phytonutrients can help a plant to survive, what can they do in our human bodies?

They can have incredible effects in our bodies. For example

Phytonutrients may inhibit the growth of cancer cells and tumours.

They may help lower blood pressure and improve the health of your arteries. Additionally they can also lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and offer protection against cardiovascular disease. 

Certain phytonutrients are also linked to eye health and there’s an association with longevity in some animal studies.

phytonutrients for depression

And in terms of using phytonutrients for depression, there are promising research findings too:

I have talked about the link between inflammation and depression before. And with regards to that, certain phytonutrients have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in your body. 

Phytochemicals may also raise levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are often low with depression. 

They can also increase blood flow to your brain which is great because reduced brain blood flow is linked to depression.

They may also increase something called BDNF which is a protein that helps your nerve cells in your brain to survive. And that’s not only important for your mood but also your cognitive function including your memory. 

So there’s quite a lot here to convince us that eating foods rich in phytonutrients is a good thing. In fact, some researchers are suggesting that phytochemicals could be antidepressants in the future. It’s pretty fascinating!


lastyly, so where do we find phytonutrients?

The photo above illustrates it well: it’s the rainbow colours in food that we’re talking about here. There are various groups of different phytonutrients. Perhaps you might have heard of some such as carotenoids, curcuminoids, flavonoids, quercetin or lignans. 

You’ll find these plant compounds in all the edible parts of  plants, but the skin and peel often have the highest quantity. 

And it’s good to know that most plant foods have lots of different phytonutrients. Carrots for example appears to have over 100. And I think rather than focusing on one or two particular plant foods, it’s important to focus on the whole range of them. Hence why you’ll often hear the recommendation to eat a rainbow of foods. 

Particularly if we follow the typical Western diet, we often are really lacking in plant food diversity. In fact, when I was at the conference on nutritional psychiatry in September, there was quite a lot of discussion on the number of foods we typically eat per week. Many of us don’t get beyond 20… and that’s just so low. 

If you’d like to challenge yourself and your own food variety, follow this link to a great chart that you can print at home. 

So on your next trip to your food shop or even better farmer’s market, go for foods such as these:

Berries, citrus fruits, apples, red onions, white onions, garlic, ginger. Kale, chard, red cabbage, green cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts. Herbs, herbs, herbs and herbs (when was the last time you used fresh herbs?). Aubergines, fennel, beetroot, squash/pumpkin, sweet potato. Kiwi, avocado, melon, peppers, leeks, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber. This list could go on… so much choice!

In my work with clients we not only use foods to boost mood but a whole host of other lifestyle factors to improve mental health naturally. We also use tests to find any contributing root causes in your body, and use tools and strategies to nurture your mind as well. If you’d like to know more, you can download my free workbook called “3 steps to beat depression” here

Welcome to the blog

I’m Claudia Smith and I help women get to better mental health naturally. Having overcome depression once myself, I am a qualified nutritionist, coach and practice functional medicine.

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