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Depression, Diet And How Super Foods Can Help To Fight Back Corporate Stress

Depression being a key contributor to overall global burden of disease, the UN WHO has declared Depression as the theme of World Health Day 2017

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Depression has not been taken with much seriousness for long, due to social stigma or lack of awareness and diagnosis but is now an acknowledged malady that affects growing numbers of people across the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally 300 million people are affected by depression. Contrary to popular belief the situation in India is similarly alarming. In a mental health survey released by NIMHANS, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, one in every 20 Indians suffers from some form of depression. Not just that, as a country India was ranked a lowly 122nd in World Happiness Report released last month. Depression being a key contributor to overall global burden of disease, the UN WHO has declared Depression as the theme of World Health Day 2017.

Depression can be due to various reasons ranging from endogenic to environmental causes. Sometimes environmental situations trigger a genetic predisposition and cause the onset of depression. Work environment is culprit too often. Stress is a common adjunct to depression. High pressure jobs, impossible deadlines, performance targets and depleting time-life management are all causes that almost every executive in the corporate world is familiar with. No wonder that much of what we know as depression is manifest as clinical symptoms before even the thought crosses the mind and many of these remain cases that never surface until complications arise.

As the stage of the condition demands, depression needs counselling and medical care. Interestingly, there is now growing agreement that food plays a significant role in management of depression. Various research studies in brain chemistry have shown reduced cognitive performance in people who habitually eat refined carbohydrates, trans fats and subscribe to an unbalanced diet. On the other hand, a good food selection with the right quantities and combinations of food groups helps in better wellness resulting in effective ability to handle and recover from stresses.

According to growing consensus in the scientific and nutrition community, Omega-3 fats are an effective nutrient in our diet that provides adequate protection against depression*. Omega-3 fats also help improve heart health and improve overall wellness. Studies have proven that populations who consumed omega-3 rich foods regularly had lower incidences of depression. Omega-3 fats have shown a positive role in improving mood in people suffering from depression. Foods rich in omega-3 are fish and a few plant produce. In this context, the cost of fish and other seafood is a limiting factor in most Indian homes.

Plant based sources viz. Chia is one of the richest sources of plant based omega-3 fats for vegetarians. It is also rich in proteins and fibres.

Chia is an ancient grain and was an essential part of the Aztec culture with a presence in their religious practices, daily food and special foods. Chia was an integral food for the ancient Aztec warriors. Over the centuries, witnessing many a military invasion, the crop lost its presence and was revived only in the recent past. Chia seeds occur in nature in black, mottled and white forms with white seeds having an edge over the rest. Due to its high import costs, superfoods have been inaccessible to a majority of consumers in India leave alone the common man. However, all that may be about to change.

At India's premier food and nutrition research development organisation, CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute, we have been developing agrotechnologies to grow Superfoods in Indian conditions, and as a pilot programme provided Chia seeds for free to Indian farmers. CFTRI has developed two high yielding lines of Chia with blue/white flower, white seed and agrotechnology for their cultivation. White seeds blend seamlessly into foods and have a better market globally. Farmers from across the nation have benefited with better incomes due to the seeds they received and cultivated with CFTRI agrotechnology. Chia can be produced in both kharif (rainy) and rabi (winter) seasons and while crop duration is of only 90-120 days, the yield is 350-400 kg per acre.

One of the main focus of the thrust of CFTRI's work on Superfoods like Chia is to make it easily available and affordable to Indians at large so that it can gain the currency of a staple like a dal or pulses of everyday use. Chia seeds do not require post-harvest processing and can be directly consumed after harvesting and cleaning. It is highly versatile and can be consumed by adding to our daily foods. Chia upon adding to water becomes a gel that is easy to drink. The neutral taste of the seed helps in seamless blending into all food products. Chia seeds blend well in into fruit juices, curd, buttermilk, puddings and bakery products. Smoothies and shakes with chia seeds are all the rage currently across the world for its potential health benefits.

Pre-empting the onset of depression would be very effective with a comprehensive approach of meditation, yoga, counselling, medical help (where needed) and nutrition. Chia can offer a daily dose of good healthy fat into our lives every day in just a teaspoon and help overcome depression. Considering the amount of time and energy we spend trying to be healthy, a simple alteration in our food habit can give any corporate executive a leg up in achieving the perfect body mind balance he or she is seeking.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Ram Rajasekharan

The author is director, Central Food Technological Research Institute

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