Foods That Help Fight Depression

Feeling Down? It Might be Your Diet.

A depressed woman in the kitchen.

While there is no specific food that can prevent or treat depression, a healthy diet may help boost your mood. If you feel depressed, talk to your doctor. Also remember no one food is a substitute for prescribed medication. That said, good nutrition helps keep you feeling your best. Nutrients in foods support the body's growth, wellness, and repair. Without vitamins, mineral, carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, our bodies cannot work at its full capacity.

Turkey

A man carving a turkey at dinner.

Turkey contains tryptophan, which is a brain chemical that has a role in the synthesis of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is believed to influence our moods. Other than turkey, good sources of tryptophan include chicken, tuna, soybeans, bananas, dried prunes, oats, bread, peanuts, milk, cheese, and even chocolate.

Brazil Nuts

A person holding a handful of Brazil nuts, fighting depression.

Brazil nuts are full of selenium, which can have mood-enhancing effects. This mineral also helps the body maintain a healthy antioxidant balance for overall health and well-being. Eat Brazil nuts in moderation; the levels of selenium in them are so high, eating too many can cause you to exceed the recommended daily allowance, leading to side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and other problems. Other foods that contain selenium include walnuts, sunflower seeds, brown rice, poultry, and seafood.

Carrots

A basket of carrots at a farmers market, helping to fight depression.

Carrots get their orange color from the nutrient beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that people with higher levels of antioxidant carotenoids were less likely to have symptoms of depression. Carotenoids occur naturally in bright red, yellow, and orange pigments in fruits and vegetables. Pumpkin, cantaloupe, broccoli, cantaloupe, collards, peaches, spinach, and sweet potatoes also contain beta-carotene.

Clams and Mussels

A bowl of clams and mussels to help fight depression.

Vitamin B12 helps keep the blood and nerve cells of the body healthy. People who have higher total intakes of vitamin B12 from foods were less likely to have depression. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in foods of animal origin such as: shellfish (like clams and mussels), fish, lean beef, and lamb. Other sources of vitamin B12 include poultry, milk, eggs, and some pre-prepared foods like fortified breakfast cereals. Shellfish, beef and other foods of animal origins should be fresh and prepared (cooked) appropriately to avoid some food-related diseases.

Coffee

A cup of coffee and coffee beans on a table, helping to fight depression.

Many people use caffeine as a pick-me-up, but it may be more than that. Coffee my boost energy and mood as well as lower one's risk of depression. The antioxidants in coffee may be an explanation for the decreased depression risk. The long-term effects of caffeine on depression are unknown. Keep in mind caffeine is not the best choice for everyone. If you have postpartum depression, panic disorder, insomnia, heartburn, palpitations, or headaches, caffeine could worsen these conditions.

Leafy Greens

A woman shopping for leafy greens at the supermarket to help fight depression.

Leafy greens have folate (also called vitamin B9), a nutrient the body's cells need to stay healthy. Low levels of folate can result in anxiety, irritability, forgetfulness, insomnia, confusion, and depression. It is also believed that folate may make antidepressant medications more effective. Folate is found naturally in foods whereas folic acid is a synthetic version found in supplements. Other than dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, folate can be found in: lentils, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, nuts, beans, peas, fruit and fruits juices (especially oranges and orange juice). Folic acid is also added to many grain products such as cereals, pasta, and rice.

Salmon

A cooked salmon fillet with herbs and lemon wedge, perfect to help fight depression.

Fish such as salmon, herring, and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in cognitive and behavioral functioning. Low levels of these omega-3s can lead to depression. Moderate consumption of foods that contain omega-3s can reduce the risk of a depressed mood. Salmon also reduces inflammation and overall risk of heart disease. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish such as cod, haddock, and halibut, as well as nut oils and algae. A diet rich in tuna and other game fish like marlin or sailfish may contain mercury so only modest or small amounts of such fish are recommended.

Milk

A man pours milk into his breakfast cereal next to a pitcher of orange juice.

Low levels of vitamin D may cause you to feel depressed. It's thought that vitamin D increases the amount of monoamines (a type of neurotransmitter; serotonin is one example) in your brain, which can have an effect on your mood. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, but you can supplement that with some good diet choices including: fortified dairy and non-dairy milk, enriched cereal and juices, fatty fish, and egg yolk.

Berries

A basket full of mixed berries, good for fighting depression.

People who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to have lower rates of depression and other mood disorders. Berries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants that fight free radicals - molecules produced in the body that contribute to cell damage, aging, and dysfunction. The damage caused by free radicals is called 'oxidative stress'. Foods rich in antioxidants may reduce the effects of oxidative stress on mental health. Berries also contain vitamin C, which has been shown to reduce stress. Supplements don't have the same effect on mood as food-based sources of antioxidants do. Including berries as part of a healthy diet can help combat free radical damage.

Alcohol and Depression

Whiskey being poured into glasses, increasing depression risk.

Many people drink alcohol to forget their worries, but they may be causing themselves to feel more depressed. Heavy drinking can make depression symptoms worse over time because alcohol makes your brain less active and may damage the liver. Studies have shown a link between alcohol use disorders and depression. Alcohol itself is a depressant, which means that it reduces excitability and stimulation. Just one drink may cause you to feel down. In addition, alcohol use can reduce the effectiveness of antidepressant medications.

Junk Food and Depression

Junk food that can increase depression risk.

It's called junk food for a reason. Foods in this category are usually high in sugar, fat, and simple carbohydrates, and they usually lack much in the way of nutritional value. People who eat foods higher on the glycemic index (foods with simple carbohydrates and added sugars) tended to have greater risk of depression. Higher rates of depression are also associated with eating fast food, sweetened beverages, and pastries. The best bet for your mood and your overall health is to eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean protein.

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REFERENCES:

  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "High Glycemic Index Diet as a Risk Factor for Depression: Analyses From the Women’s Health Initiative"
  • European Journal of Nutrition: "Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids Intake, Fish Consumption and Mental Disorders in the Sun Cohort Study"
  • Indian Journal of Psychiatry: "Role of Antioxidants in Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression"
  • JAMA Internal Medicine: "Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women"
  • Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: "Folate and Depression—a Neglected Problem"
  • NutritionFacts.org: "Four Nuts Once a Month", "Fighting the Blues with Greens?", "Antioxidants and Depression"
  • Public Health Nutrition: "Fast-food and Commercial Baked Goods Consumption and the Risk of Depression"
  • University of Orago New Zealand: "New Study Shows Strong Link Between Selenium Levels and Depression"
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Selenium"
  • Vitamin D Council: "Depression", "How Do I Get the Vitamin D My Body Needs?"
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