Foods That May Help You Manage Depression
Not only does a healthy diet help control your waistline, but smarter food choices may also help ward off symptoms of depression. The best nutritional plan to prevent depression is likely to be a varied diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. While you increase these healthy foods, cut down on the processed and prepackaged foods you eat, according to dietary recommendations for depression published in August 2015 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.
“Eating several servings of fruits and veggies daily, along with whole grains, lean meats, and occasional treats is the best way to support good mental and physical health throughout life,” says Felice Jacka, PhD, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR) and the Australian Alliance for the Prevention of Mental Disorders. Dr. Jacka’s research into the relationship between diet and depression has pointed to the importance of healthy foods and a varied diet to boost mood. “The way that food interacts in our bodies to support or reduce health is highly complex,” she says. “This is why reducing the focus to single nutrients or food components is of limited value.”
Along with a prescribed treatment plan, certain foods may help manage depression by providing a variety of important nutrients. Start by putting these 10 foods on your menu .
Jacka recommends consuming fresh nuts on a daily basis. Nuts are healthy foods densely packed with fiber, protein, and healthy fats — just keep track of calories, which can add up quickly. Try to get about 1 ounce a day of mixed nuts, including walnuts and almonds. Munch on nuts containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts and almonds, for the greatest long-term benefits.
High-quality proteins are building blocks for a mood-boosting diet, Jacka says. She highlights grass-fed beef as an example of a healthy protein to include for balancing depression and diet. According to Jacka’s research team, grass-fed beef contains more of the healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, that might play a role in managing depression.
Fish is one healthy food that can help fight depression, according to research published in January 2014 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Fish plays a role in many traditional regional diets, such as the Mediterranean, Norwegian, and Japanese diets, that have been studied and recommended for their anti-depressive benefits. Try eating a 3-ounce serving of fish two or three times a week, Jacka says.
Choosing whole grains and high-fiber foods over refined sugar and flour products is good for your body and brain health. “Keeping your blood sugar stable by not eating too many sweets or highly refined carbohydrates is a good place to start,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RD, CDN, a dietitian in New York City. “Blood sugar-stabilizing foods can affect mood by helping to regulate brain neurotransmitter secretions.” Women should get 25 grams of fiber daily, while men need 38 grams, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The more fruit you eat, the lower your risk of depression, according to a review of research examining the correlation between fruit and vegetable consumption and depression. The results of the data analysis appeared in September 2015 in the journalNutrition. Fruit is rich in vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients, making it a great food to indulge in when you want a sweet sensation. Eating a variety of fruits, including berries, is ideal, Jacka says. Aim for 1½ to 2 cups of fruit daily, recommends the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Start with a banana — a healthy sweet treat that’s been linked to improving mood.
“Eat a wide array of vegetables, with lots of leafy greens and high-fiber root vegetables,” Jacka says. The same research analysis that linked higher fruit intake with reduced depression risk suggested that eating more vegetables correlates with the same outcome. When you’re feeling blue, a carrot might be the last thing on your mind, but the variety of vitamins and minerals in vegetables, as well as their fiber content, may help protect you against low mood and depression. You’ll want 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily, the USDA says.
“The new and rapidly emerging field of research into gut health suggests that diet is essential in maintaining healthy intestinal microbiota, which appears to influence behavior as well as health,” Jacka says. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, and certain yogurts are good sources of healthy bacteria called probiotics.
Beans and Peas
The Mediterranean-style diet has many advantages, including a potential role in preventing and managing depression over your life span, according to a study published in February 2013 in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. Legumes, including lentils, beans, peas, and chickpeas are a large component of the Mediterranean diet. What’s more, legumes and other high-fiber foods (including oatmeal, asparagus, and bananas) support gut health by providing prebiotics, which feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Depending on your age and gender, you should be eating 1 to 2 cups of beans per week, according to the USDA. Reach for some warming lentil soup or scoop up hummus with raw veggies at your next meal.
Research published in May 2013 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology looked at the mood and cognitive benefits of having a chocolate drink every day for a month. Chocolate contains a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, which are thought to boost mood. The 72 female participants were divided into three groups, drinking cocoa with 0 mg, 250 mg, or 500 mg of polyphenols. Those who drank the chocolate with the highest polyphenol count experienced the greatest boost in mood, feeling calmer and more content.
A cup of caffeinated coffee could boost your mood, both short and long term. On a short-term basis, the caffeine provides an immediate pick-me-up — and can provide a social mood boost if you’re at a coffee bar. Plus, a review of data from 12 studies of caffeine and depression suggests that coffee may help protect against depression. According to the results, reported in January 2016 in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, you’ll get the most protection with about 2 cups (400 milliliters) of coffee per day.