Depression is a mood disorder that can make you feel sad, sluggish, and low on energy. There are many treatments and strategies to help you feel better, but the food you eat also plays a role.
Although medication and therapy are considered the main options, incorporating healthy foods such as green leafy vegetables, berries, tomatoes, walnuts and salmon into your diet is an easy way to improve your mood.
This article discusses foods that can help combat depression and some that you should avoid.
13 Best Foods to Fight Depression
While no food alone can cure depression on its own, a healthy diet can reduce symptoms. Research shows that foods high in nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins and fatty acids, are generally known to help.
Leafy green vegetables
Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens contain magnesium, which can help with mood. Research shows that people with depression are more likely to have low magnesium levels. Green leafy vegetables are also rich in folic acid, a B vitamin that some research suggests may help depression.
Berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, are packed with antioxidants, which help protect your body against cell damage. One study found that berries may have mood-enhancing effects similar to Depakote (valproic acid), an anticonvulsant drug.
Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that your body uses to make the mood-regulating chemical serotonin. Research has shown that people who consume tryptophan have a lower risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Carrots provide unique antioxidants called carotenoids, which are known to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Some studies have found that consuming more carotenoids reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Avocados are rich in folic acid, potassium, tryptophan and vitamin K, which can help relieve symptoms of depression. They also contain brain-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which can have an antidepressant effect.
Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins and selenium. Some research suggests that a deficiency in these nutrients may be linked to symptoms of depression.
Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants. They also contain iron, vitamin B6 and tryptophan, nutrients your brain needs to produce mood-regulating chemicals. One study found that older adults who ate tomatoes two to six times a week were 46% less likely to have mild or severe depression symptoms compared to those who ate tomatoes less than once a week.
Brazil nuts are edible seeds from the Brazil nut tree. They contain many nutrients, including selenium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, calcium and iron. The nuts also contain a substance called ellagic acid, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In some studies, ellagic acid has shown antidepressant effects on the brain.
Walnuts provide several mood-enhancing nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, copper, iron, antioxidants and magnesium. One study found that people who ate walnuts reported fewer symptoms of depression than those who did not consume the nuts.
Milk is a good source of vitamin D, which can ward off symptoms of depression. One study found that people who consumed higher amounts of low-fat milk and yogurt were less likely to develop symptoms of depression.
Coffee contains caffeine, which quickly puts you in a better mood. Some research shows that caffeine may have an antidepressant effect by increasing the production of several feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
However, other studies have found that coffee consumption can worsen depression in people who already have a mood disorder. It is best to only drink coffee if you notice a positive effect.
Salmon is rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help relieve symptoms of depression in people with a vitamin deficiency. The American Heart Association guidelines suggest eating two servings of fish, such as salmon, per week.
Clams and Mussels
Shellfish, such as clams and clams, are good sources of vitamin B12. Clams are also high in tryptophan, converted into serotonin in the brain. Mussels are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and promote brain health.
Hydration and depression
Staying hydrated is also important if you have depression. Research shows that drinking plain water can lower the risk of depression and anxiety.
A word from Verywell
Nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains can positively impact brain health and reduce symptoms of depression. Following a Mediterranean diet helps eliminate more processed options.
What foods should you avoid if you have depression?
When it comes to depression and eating, it’s not just about what you eat. It’s also about what you don’t eat. In general, you should stay away from foods that are processed, high in sugar, or fried.
Junk food contains many calories and few nutrients. Studies suggest that eating a lot of junk food, especially those containing artificial sweeteners, can increase your risk of depression. Other research has found that refined foods, such as white bread and soda, can increase mood swings, fatigue, and other symptoms of depression.
Although sometimes known for relieving stress, alcohol can worsen symptoms of depression. Alcohol is by definition a depressant, meaning it slows down brain activity and can change your mood. Heavy drinking can also make antidepressants less effective.
Many foods contain specific substances that can help relieve the symptoms of depression. Including leafy greens, berries, tomatoes, avocados, mushrooms, turkey, salmon, walnuts, milk and more foods in your diet can help improve your mood.
However, no food will cure the disease. It is better to focus on a balanced, healthy diet to improve your mood. A balanced diet includes proportionate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.