No one chooses to have depression invade their life. No one chooses to have feelings of self-doubt, loneliness, sadness and helplessness replace feelings of self-worth, belonging, joy and confidence, to have depression arise out of nowhere and overstay its welcome. We don’t choose whether or not we experience depression. But we do choose how we respond.

Certified health experts agree that a balanced diet, healthy amounts of exercise and sufficient sleep each night are extremely helpful. Please note that your diet, exercise levels and per-night sleep are not substitutes for professional help. If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of depression, reach out to a licensed healthcare professional to determine the best steps forward.

How exactly can my diet help me combat depression? We’re so glad you asked. Here are 4 ways that you can leverage your diet, right now, for a healthy disposition that helps you put depression in its place.

1) Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.

When it comes to a well-balanced, healthy diet, look to keep things simple. Prioritize natural, healthy ingredients grown from the ground. Steer clear of artificial flavors or sugars, added sweeteners or chemically-enhanced items that can compromise your body’s ability to digest foods appropriately.

Well-balanced diets help to provide your body with all of the nutrients it needs to perform at peak levels all day. This performance includes the body’s ability to create pleasure chemicals in the brain, naturally counteractive to depression’s effects. If we’re taking specifics, a balanced diet means a food regimen that contains the appropriate levels of carbohydrates, water, minerals and vitamins, together with protein. Consult a dietary specialist if you’d like even more help determining the appropriate amounts of the above elements that you should include in your daily diet plans.

For one amazing example of a well-balanced meal, check out this recipe for avocado toast with eggs. This ideal breakfast or snack recipe is a great way to start your day or bridge the distance between snack time and dinner time.

2) Prioritize fruits and vegetables.

Very few individuals would voluntarily choose a diet heavy in vegetables. Even fruits sometimes take some convincing before they are integrated into a regular diet. Trust us when we say that the lasting benefits of both fruits and vegetables are well worth the distaste or the lack of sugary ingredients in your next meal. Whether you’re looking to prevent cancer, promote long-lasting gastrointestinal wellness, control your weight or improve vision, fruits and vegetables are like premium gasoline for a high-performance sports car.

Fortunately, there are ways of subtly integrating key fruits and ingredients into your next meal without resorting to a heaping plateful of soybeans. For example, here’s a broccoli beef recipe beloved by even the most vegetable-reluctant among us. And for anyone looking for an easy way to integrate fruit into your daily intake, here’s a collection of not one, but 28 individual recipes that prioritize fruit in subtle and tasty ways.

3) Maintain a healthy protein intake.

It’s no secret that your body needs protein to function. However, the link between protein intake and strong mental health is even more defined: studies show that protein can actually help your body produce neurotransmitters, useful in helping to treat both depression and anxiety. In addition, protein is second to none when it comes to helping in growth and bodily repair.

Whether you’re sourcing your protein straight from the foods you eat or from protein supplements, it’s critical that your body receive the protein you need on a day-to-day basis. Recipes like this pesto pasta with green beans and potatoes helps you reach your daily protein quota, while at the same time delivering mouth-watering flavor.

4) Replace artificial ingredients with real ones.

Especially when depression hits, food is something we always rely on. Unfortunately, too often those food items are filled with artificial ingredients, fake flavoring and chemicals that do far more harm than good. Fortunately, there are a number of different ways that you can substitute those artificial ingredients in your favorite recipes.

You can accomplish the same flavors without using ingredients that will ultimately compromise your healthy diet and make your depression even more difficult to manage over time. When it comes to prioritizing health without losing flavor, consider making any of the following substitutions when preparing your next meal:

  • Trade bread crumbs for dried oats or crushed bran
  • Substitute all-purpose flour for whole-wheat flour
  • Trade whole milk for fat free milk
  • Substitute white rice with brown rice
  • Trade sugar for agave nectar
  • Substitute artificial coloring with ingredients with natural coloration

Fight your depression without losing your appetite

Thankfully, there are a number of delectable recipes that satisfy all the requirements for a healthy meal, without making you lose your appetite. Whether it’s a fruit-centric dessert or a simple replacement of artificial sugars with agave, there are so many ways to substitute flavors, prioritize healthy ingredients and fill bellies without compromising on the tastes you really love.

You don’t choose to experience depression, but you do get to choose how you respond. And you always get to choose what you put into your body. Take the time to get to know the ingredients you regularly consume, especially if you’re suspicious that they might actually be making your depression harder to manage. Then all that’s left to do is congratulate yourself on a disciplined approach to your own food habits, practices that will make you stronger, smarter and more able to fight off depression when it surfaces.