How can diet affect depression?

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Dr. John Preston, PsyD
Psychology Specialist

Although there is no single food or way of eating that will cure depression, eating the following foods can help:

  • Complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grain breads, cereals (oatmeal is an especially good choice), and pasta, as well as fresh fruit, and vegetables, increase serotonin levels in the brain. These higher levels of serotonin decrease anxiety and increase a feeling of calm. 
  • Protein. The protein in chicken, turkey, nuts, eggs, and tuna contains the amino acid tyrosine, which increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and can help you feel energized and alert. Try to eat protein several times a day, but not too close to bedtime, as the increased alertness and energy it provides may make it hard to fall asleep. 
  • Antioxidants. Free radicals are molecules created during normal body functioning, but they can contribute to cell damage and aging. The brain is at particular risk for free radical damage, so eating a diet high in antioxidants, which counter the effects of free radicals, can help to keep your brain functioning well. Antioxidants include beta-carotene (found in cantaloupe, carrots, broccoli, collard greens, peaches, spinach, and sweet potatoes), vitamin C (found in broccoli, grapefruit, blueberries, oranges, kiwi, peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes), and vitamin E (found in nuts and seeds, wheat germ, and vegetable oils).
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have shown some promise in treating depression. They are found in fatty fish (such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, and sardines), flaxseeds, dark leafy greens, and walnuts. Omega-3s can also be obtained from fish-oil capsules, which can be found in a drugstore or health-food store. In treating depression, omega-3s from fish oil can be more effective than those derived from seed and nut oil, as they enter the brain more readily.
  • B vitamins. Studies have linked low levels of the B vitamins B12 and folic acid to depression. Folic acid is contained in foods such as legumes; dark green, leafy vegetables; many fruits; orange and tomato juice; asparagus; yeast; mushrooms; and organ meats. 
Depression 101: A Practical Guide to Treatments, Self-Help Strategies, and Preventing Relapse

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Depression 101: A Practical Guide to Treatments, Self-Help Strategies, and Preventing Relapse

When you have depression, it can feel like there's no way out. To begin changing the way you feel, you'll need an arsenal of proven techniques for lifting your mood and preventing relapse. The...

The foods you eat can affect depression symptoms. To support depression treatment, nourish your body with nutrient-rich food. Skipping meals can throw off your energy and levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that produces calmness. Your diet may be low in omega-3 fats, such as DHA and EPA, too. Research suggests that omega-3s may benefit your mood, behavior, and brain function. To boost your omega-3 intake, put fish, walnuts, avocados, olive oil, and canola oil on your menu. Complex (high-fiber) carbohydrates and foods rich in B vitamins are also important for brain function and may help ease depression symptoms. Finally, limit simple carbs (e.g., candy and soft drinks), which cause blood sugar spikes, giving you a quick burst of energy followed by irritability and sleepiness.

In one study, people who eliminated both sucrose and caffeine maintained their elevated mood for three months after modifying their diet.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, PhD
Psychology Specialist

The way we eat affects the way we feel; with depression, food choices have an impact. Watch psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, explain how our dietary choices can impact our sense of depression and why it's important to eat enough healthy food.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.