July 16, 2024


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20 Best Foods for Depression

20 Best Foods for Depression

If you try to abide by a healthy diet for the purposes of keeping your weight in check, you certainly not alone. But food isn’t just about weight: It can impact your mood, too.

What you put into your body on a daily basis affects the way it operates, from your organs to your internal systems. Your brain is majorly impacted by what you eat, too. For example, recent studies show that consuming excess sugar can lead to a higher risk of mental disorders and depression. This may be one reason that so many Americans experience symptoms of depression—according to 2017 statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 17 million adults in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Yikes.

If you aren’t supplying your brain with high-quality nutrition, it becomes impaired. Sugar, for instance, causes inflammation and oxidative stress, which can lead to symptoms of mood disorders worsening. Eating a high-fat diet can also increase your likelihood of depression symptoms, studies show.

The good news? Making healthier choices can lower your risk of depression and boost your mood, among adding myriad other health benefits. For instance, studies show that those who follow a Mediterranean diet—one that’s rich in vegetables, fruit and healthy fats—may be less likely to develop symptoms of depression as they age.

While a healthy diet can’t replace a mental health professional, by eating certain foods, you’ll give yourself a leg up in the mood department. Here are the 20 best foods for depression, according to experts.

Foods for depression


A Mediterranean-style diet that includes fish such as salmon is considered protective against mood-related issues, including depression and cognitive decline. Salmon is one of the best choices because it not only provides double your recommended value of vitamin B12, but it’s also full of protein and healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids, says Josh Axe, founder of nutrition company Ancient Nutrition and author of the forthcoming book Ancient Remedies. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory and mood-stabilizing effects and are generally thought to support brain health.

Leafy green vegetables

Studies generally show that a high intake of vegetables is associated with decreased risk for depression (the opposite is also true: low intakes of vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression). Leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard are all packed with antioxidants, along with many vitamins and nutrients like vitamins A and C, which have been found to positively affect mood, says Axe.

Sweet potatoes

Including complex carbs in your diet, such as starchy veggies like potatoes, can help you to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has natural calming and mood-lifting effects, says Axe. He adds that sweet potatoes are also high in other nutrients, such as beta-carotene that support general health by fighting free radical damage — allowing the gut and brain to remain healthy so they can produce neurotransmitters that give you a positive outlook.

Related: What Is the Mediterranean Diet and What Can You Eat On It?


Healthy fats are a critical part of an anti-depression diet, since your brain uses fats in many ways to function, says Axe. Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats — the same type found in other superfoods like olive oil that nourish your brain — as well as essential nutrients like potassium and magnesium that may have some calming qualities.


Nutrients found in eggs, including choline and vitamin B6, are critical to ensuring our physical and psychological functions, since they buffer against some effects of stress, says Axe. They help our brains to operate normally and may help to improve your energy and mood, since they support production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters.


Protein-rich foods like chicken and turkey can help to boost alertness and keep your energy up, plus they can stabilize your appetite so you’re better able to stick to a healthy diet, says Axe. Poultry also contains the amino acid called tryptophan, which helps your body produce feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, so you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Related: 30 Chicken Breast Recipes That Prove Chicken Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

Dark chocolate

Permission to indulge after dinner, granted. Dark chocolate is a good source of magnesium, which is an important yet under-consumed nutrient that’s been shown to promote feelings of calm when you’re under high levels of stress, says Jon Clinthorne, Ph.D., nutrition communication manager at Atkins.


One of the most important nutrients for brain health is the B vitamin called folate, says Clinthorne. B vitamins play a role in neurotransmitter production and other important processes in the brain, and data suggests there is a correlation between a better mood and intake of foods that are rich in folate, such as asparagus.


Several studies link intake of antioxidant-packed foods, such as blueberries, to better mood. Try adding them to Greek yogurt for a protein-packed snack that also has a low glycemic index, so it won’t spike blood sugar levels, says Clinthorne.


These low-carb nuts can help to boost your mood and are also a good source of magnesium—which again, can promote feelings of calm, says Clinthorne.


These are one of the few plants that contain vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin with many health benefits, says Clinthorne. Low levels of vitamin D have been found to be more present in those with a negative mood, and approximately 40 percent of Americans have low vitamin D levels. Sneak mushrooms into dishes like pasta sauce to get the nutrients even if you don’t like the taste.


Fermented foods such as kimchi help restore and rebalance gut health, which helps to produce neurotransmitters that can help boost your overall mood, says Clinthorne. “This connection between brain and gut health is referred to as the ‘gut-brain axis’ and is becoming one of the most heavily researched areas in this space,” he adds. Probiotics have also been shown to have mood-boosting effects in controlled trials.


For the same reasons as kimchi, sauerkraut is another fermented food that boasts all the benefits of probiotic bacteria, shown to improve the gut-brain connection and improve mood, Clinthorne says.


Like salmon, canned fish such as tuna are a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be crucial for brain health, Clinthorne adds.

Related: 5 Simple Tricks That Can Help You Eat Well and Lose Weight

Flaxseed meal

This is made up of ground flax seeds and is easier to digest than flax in seed form, says Jessi Holden, RDN, registered dietitian team lead at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stir it into oatmeal, smoothies or yogurt to get fatty lipids essential to the brain, which is composed mainly of fatty acids.

Hemp hearts or seeds

Blend hemp hearts into smoothies or shake them onto a salad — they contain high amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, both of which provide essential fats to the brain, says Holden. “This [can help] optimize brain health and therefore contribute to improved symptoms of depression, or decreased risk,” she adds.

Chia seeds

Tiny but mighty, chia seeds are also high in those essential fatty acids needed to optimize brain health, says Holden. They swell when added to liquid, so add them to smoothies or make chia seed pudding for delicious snacks with benefits to boot.

Liquid aminos

Symptoms of depression can increase if our brains produce low levels of neurotransmitters, says Holden. That’s why we need to fuel those neurotransmitters with adequate nutrients—and one way to do this is to consume amino acids, such as those found in liquid aminos. Use it as a replacement for soy sauce, such as in stir-fries and salad dressings.


This staple doesn’t just improve bone health—it can also provide tyrosine, glutamine, zinc and magnesium, all of which help to fuel those neurotransmitters and potentially decrease symptoms and/or risk of depression, says Holden.


Adding regular or Greek yogurt to your weekly diet has major benefits for brain health, says Holden, as it has all of the same benefits as cheese—plus more protein.

Next up, here’s how to know if you have seasonal depression.