Struggling with Depression? These Healthy Foods May Help

Struggling with Depression? These Healthy Foods May Help

  • Last Updated: September 10, 2019
Foods for Depression

Did you know that a combination of factors (hormonal imbalances, genetics, chronic illnesses, and high stress levels) can cause you to spiral into the deep depression?

Researchers are trying to determine if your diet heightens your risk of developing mental illness. The truth is most foods contain a variety of essential nutrients that are needed to properly balance the hormones and neurochemicals in your brain.

However, rather than solely focus on one or two foods (nutrients) as a “cure-all” for depression, researchers have begun to explore the intricate relationship between what we put in our bodies and how it affects us – how we think, feel, and behave.

The foods we eat, and consequently the nutrients we consume, contain numerous compounds that combine and interact in very complicated ways.

As a result, it appears that vitamin and mineral deficiencies may worsen depression symptoms in some individuals, while healthy foods high in nutrients may actually improve it in others.

Therefore some researchers suggest that the same foods that are touted as being beneficial for your physical health may also be good for your mental health and well-being.

It is important to note that although the interaction between food and depression has not been thoroughly researched as of date, in my professional experience as a psychologist, this is what I have recommended and what has worked for my clients who are struggling with depression.

Keep in mind however that healthy foods alone will not “cure” depression. However, nutrient-rich foods, along with medication, therapy, and alternative treatments (acupuncture, massages, mediation, exercise, etc.) may help you better manage your condition.

Healthy Foods for Depression

Listed below are healthy foods that may help reduce your depression symptoms:

Fatty Fish

Fatty Fish

It’s time to bring fat back, well, at least the healthy kind anyway. My clients often report how beneficial fatty fish is when battling depression. Why do they speak so highly of fatty fish? Well, maybe because it contains healthy fats.

And, healthy fats like the kind found in fatty fish (i.e. tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, and sardines) contain high levels on omega-3 fatty acids. And, omega-3 fatty acids are not only vital for combating depression, they also aid in brain health, in general.

Dr. Andrew Weil, integrative medicine physician and teacher, asserts that those with depression should consume 250-500 mgs of oily, cold-water, wild-caught fish two-to-three times a week for maximum benefit. [1]

In fact, a recent study on omega-3 fatty acids and depression found that people, who consume fatty fish a few times a week, can lower their risk of developing depression by 17%, in comparison to those, who rarely or never consume fatty fish. [2]

Similarly, another study suggests that taking omega-3 fish oil supplements may increase the effects of anti-depressants and ease depression symptoms. [3]

If fish just isn’t your “thing,” you can also find omega-3 in a variety of foods you probably have in your home like avocados, flaxseed/flaxseed oil, walnuts, olive oil, canola oil, spinach, Brussel sprouts, soybean, eggs, beef, broccoli, anchovies, chia seeds, and oysters! [4]

Consuming food high in fatty acids may help ease your depression symptoms – when combined with your prescribed treatment plan.

Carrots & Other Carotenoid Foods

Carrots

Another food that may reduce depression symptoms is carrots! Did you know that carrots get their orange tint from carotenoids, a type of antioxidant? Well, it’s true. Carotenoids have a reputation of easing depression symptoms – in some individuals.

In fact, according to a study, women and men, who do not consume a healthy amount of carotenoids, like carrots, have a higher risk of developing depression, than those, who do consume them on a regular basis. [5]

Similarly, another study found that women and men, who regularly consume carotenoids, are more positive and optimistic. They also have fewer mood swings and depressed moods.[7]

It is important to note that researchers have been unable to pinpoint the actual cause and effect of depression and carotenoids.

However, most researchers believe that people, who consume nutrient-rich foods like carotenoids on a regular basis, are healthier; in general. And, as a result, these individuals tend to have more positive and optimistic outlooks on life. [7]

On the other hand, carotenoid deficiencies are linked to depression symptoms. [5]But, what if you are like me and simply don’t like carrots?

Well, don’t fret, because this antioxidant can also be found in other healthy (orange and non-orange) foods like sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, tomatoes, kale, mangoes, plums, pumpkin, apricots, watermelon, bell pepper, cantaloupe, egg yolks, collard greens, and papaya! [6] Whoa!

So, the next time you’re feeling depressed, pick up some carotenoid-rich healthy foods, you may be surprised how much better you feel after consuming a ½ a cup (or more) of these delicious and highly nutritious foods! [6]

Coffee & Green Tea

Green Tea

When was the last time you had a caffeinated cup of coffee or glass of refreshing green tea? Well, if you suffer from depression, you may want to consider grabbing one – or two of them.

Why? Well, because coffee and green tea contain various amounts of caffeine. And, although caffeine can “hype you up,” it may also alleviate depression symptoms – in some individuals.

The truth is, most of my clients are coffee or green tea drinkers, and most of them recommend drinking one or both of these tasty beverages a couple times a day to beat depression.

Green tea not only holds a little bit of caffeine, it also is rich in L-theanine, a cell-repairing amino acid that not only improves your concentration and focus, but also calms your mind and reduces your stress level. [9]

Therefore, I often suggest to my clients that they add-in or ramp-up their consumption of coffee and/or green tea, when they are experiencing a bout of depression. [8]

Note: Coffee is not recommended for young children, due to its stimulant effects, however, if you decide to give your child coffee, exercise caution.

Turkey

Turkey

Another healthy food that is good for depression is turkey. Turkey is a lean source of protein, which can help you conquer depression. It is also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body absorb and utilize protein. Higher levels of tryptophan in the body may reduce depression symptoms and improve your mood.

Moreover, your body uses tryptophan to produce serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone that makes you feel happy and overjoyed. [9] Maybe that is why most people feel good – tired – but good after a Thanksgiving turkey dinner…

Still, if you really don’t like turkey that’s okay too, because you can find tryptophan in a variety of other foods, as well. Some of these foods include: eggs, oats, chocolate, yogurt, milk, red meat, cottage cheese, chickpeas, almonds, peanuts, dried dates, sunflower/pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, fish, and chicken. [10]

Beans

Beans

I often suggest that my clients with depression ramp up on beans to help ease their symptoms. And, many of them have found that increasing their consumption of legumes stabilizes their moods, provides them with more energy, and boosts their spirits.

How do legumes like beans help depression sufferers? Well, according to recent studies, there is a relationship between low levels of selenium, an essential trace mineral (found in beans), and depression. [11]

Selenium is important for healthy brain function, fertility, and a strong immune system. The recommended dose for selenium in adults is 55mcg. [11]It is important to note that the jury is still out, when it comes to selenium supplements, and if they are effective for alleviating depression symptoms.

Be cautious when taking a selenium supplement, because it can cause side-effects, if too much of it is ingested. [11]

If you are anything like me, and not fond of beans or supplements, you can find selenium in the following healthy foods: lean skinless meat, Brazil nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, low-fat yogurt, skim and 2% milk, clams, oysters, oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain pasta, sardines, crab, saltwater fish, and freshwater fish. [11]

Yogurt

Yogurt

Many of my clients, who suffer from depression, report that consuming low-fat yogurt on a daily basis actually helps them better manage their condition.

Low-fat yogurt is beneficial for depression sufferers because it contains high levels of vitamin D, protein, and calcium – vitamins that are essential for combating bouts of depression. [9]

This combo also produces feelings of mental calmness, bodily relaxation, and a healthy emotional and physical well-being. [9]

If you just can’t get into yogurt, especially the low-fat kind, you can consume other low-fat dairy products like skim, fat-free, or 2% milk, low-fat cheeses like cottage cheese, fat-free or “light” cream cheeses, and low-fat or fat-free ice creams. Yum! [9]

Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate

Who doesn’t love chocolate? Well, if you are experiencing depression, you may want to grab a dark chocolate bar as a daily snack. Most of my clients love chocolate because they believe it uplifts them when they are feeling “down.”

Well, after researching the effects of dark chocolate, I have found that it can be beneficial for some depression sufferers.

Dark chocolate is a type of chocolate that contains a high level of cocoa – more than milk chocolate. Moreover, it contains very little dairy, so people, who are sensitive to dairy can safely consume it when their depression flares up.

Dark chocolate is beneficial for depression sufferers, because it relaxes your cardiovascular blood vessels and triggers the release of serotonin in the body. [9]

Exercise caution, however, when consuming dark chocolate because it is high-calorie (i.e. typically 150 calories or more, per ounce), so only eat small portions of it until your depression eases. [9]

Blueberries & Other Berries

Blueberries & Other Berries

A common food I often recommend to my clients that appears to help with depression is blueberries. Study results suggest that people, who consume blueberries on a regular basis, have a lower risk of developing depression or other mood disorders.

Why? Well, primarily because blueberries are rich in free radical-fighting antioxidants. What are free radicals? They are harmful bodily substances that aid in aging, cellular damage, and cellular abnormalities. [12]

Free radicals can also cause “oxidative stress” in your body, leading to mood swings, anxiety, and depression. [13]

On the flip side, however, foods rich in antioxidants can reduce “oxidative stress” in the body, thus, lowering your risk of mood disorders like depression. [12]

Blueberries also contain high levels of vitamin C, which can work wonders on your emotional and physical health. Vitamin C is known for easing stress in the body, strengthening your immune system, and repairing cellular damage.

If you’d rather stay far-far away from blueberries, but still want the depression-busting effects of antioxidants and vitamin C, well, that same vitamin combo is offered in all berries – i.e. strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Not sold on any berries? Well, you can also get vitamin C and antioxidants in oranges, cherries, bell peppers, blackcurrants, and plums. [12]

Leafy Greens & Other Folate Foods

Leafy Greens

My clients with depression love leafy greens. Why? Well, mostly because they are healthy and they alleviate their depression symptoms. Leafy greens are beneficial for depression sufferers because they contain high levels of folate aka vitamin B9. [12]

You need folate to keep your cells healthy and your brain functioning at an optimal level. A folate deficiency can lead to depression, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, memory loss, confusion, and insomnia. [12]

Moreover, some mental health professionals believe that folate may actually be more effective than anti-depressants in relieving depression symptoms. [12] Many foods contain healthy amounts of folate. Some of these foods include: kale, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, turnip greens, and collard greens.

But, if you still want the folate, but don’t particularly care for leafy greens, you can still find healthy amounts of folate in the following foods: asparagus, peas, oranges/orange juice, beans, nuts, Brussel sprouts, and lentils.

Furthermore, folic acid, a synthetic version of folate can be found in a variety of grain foods, such as: rice, cereal, and pasta. [12]

In Summary…

Although, there are no specific foods that are “cure-alls” for depression, a variety of healthy foods may help uplift you and boost your mood.

And, even though there isn’t an abundance of studies on the effects of foods on mental health, a healthy diet can help you feel your best – energetic, positive, happy, and even successful.

Healthy foods also aid in development and growth, as well as cellular repair and an overall sense of health and well-being.

Without a variety of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats), our bodies, including our brains, cannot function at an optimal level. Remember, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, so adopting a healthy diet may help make you feel better, while taking the edge off your depression symptoms.

Note: If you think you are experiencing depression, talk to your doctor. And, keep in mind that healthy foods are not a substitute for your prescribed treatment plan.

References

  1. WebMD. (2018). Fish oil to treat depression?
  2. Li, F., Liu, X., & Zhang, D. (2016). Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis Journal of Epidemiology Community Health, 70, 299-304.
  3. Sarris, J., Murphy, J., Mischoulon, D., Papakostas, G. I., Fava, M., Berk, M., & Ng, C. H. (2016). Adjunctive nutraceuticals for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysesThe American Journal of Psychiatry, 173(6), 575-587.
  4. Hjalmarsdottir, F. (2017). 12 foods that are very high in omega-3Healthline.
  5. Milaneschi, Y., Bandinelli, S., Penninx, B. W., Corsi, A. M., Lauretani, F., Vazzana, R., & Ferrucci, L. (2012). The relationship between plasma carotenoids and depressive symptoms in older personsThe World Journal of Biological Psychiatry : The Official Journal of the World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry13(8), 588–598.
  6. Boehm, J. K., Williams, D. R., Rimm, E. B., Ryff, C., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2013). The association between optimism and serum antioxidants in the midlife in the United States study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 75(1), 2–10.
  7. Oregon State University. (2018). Carotenoids.
  8. Lai, J. S., Hiles, S., Bisquera, A., Hure, A. J., McEvoy, M. & Attia, J. (2014). A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adultsThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99 (1), 181–197.
  9. Sathyanarayana, T. S. S., Rao, Asha, M. R. & Rao, K. S. J. (2008). Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 50(2), 77–82.
  10. Milaneschi, Y., Bandinelli, S. &Ferrucci, L. (2012). The relationship between carotenoids and depressive symptoms in older personsWorld Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 13(8), 566-598.
  11. WebMD. (2018). Depression and diet.
  12. Davis, C. P. (2016). Foods that help fight depressionOnHealth. 
  13. Bajpai, A., Verma, A. K., Srivastava, M., & Srivastava, R. (2014). Oxidative stress and major depressionJournal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR, 8(12), CC04–CC07.

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