The 8 Best Foods to Eat For Depression

The 8 Best Foods to Eat For Depression

Superstar foods
Research shows a diet rich in produce, fish, whole grains and nuts reduces the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease. Studies suggest such a diet also may help relieve symptoms of depression and even prevent it.

“Scientific evidence shows a clear connection between what you eat and your risk of depression and dementia,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City and author of the upcoming book “Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients that Fuel Brain Power, Boost Weight Loss and Transform Your Health.”

Here are 8 superstar foods Ramsey and other experts say can ease symptoms of depression and even help to prevent it. (Note they aren't a substitute for seeing a mental health care specialist if you think you're depressed or taking any medication you've been prescribed.)

Wild salmon
Studies have found people with depression are likely to have certain inflammatory proteins in their blood, brain and spinal cord fluid. Salmon and other oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation. If you have depression, two weekly servings of cold-water fish may ease your symptoms, according to Ohio State University researchers.

Salmon also contains vitamin B12, zinc and protein which are all important for brain health, says psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD. “The brain is your body's master mood regulator," he adds. Stick with wild salmon and other sustainable seafood. If you're pregnant or nursing, have no more than 12 ounces of fish per week.

If you don’t like fish, supplements may help. A large Canadian study found omega-3 supplements reduced symptoms in people with depression (who did not also have anxiety disorders).

Fruits help fight inflammation because they’re low in fat and high in antioxidants. But berries have the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruits and vegetables, according to the Department of Agriculture.

A study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2012 found patients suffering from depression had significantly lower levels of vitamins A, C and E compared with a healthy control group. After being treated for six weeks with antioxidant supplements, the patients had significantly lower depression scores.

Berries are rich in anthocyanins, powerful phytochemicals that give them their bright hues. They're critical to brain health, says Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, because they increase levels of BDNF, a brain-protecting chemical that improves memory while warding off depression.

Curry made with turmeric
If you’re a fan of Indian food, you’re in luck. Turmeric — the ingredient that makes curry yellow — contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory compound that has a protective effect against major depression, according to a study in the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. In animal studies, curcumin also has shown promise for treating depression, according to an article in the Scientific World Journal.

Research in people is also promising. A 2014 study in Phytotherapy Research found patients with major depressive disorder who were treated with 1000 mg of curcumin for six weeks had similar symptom relief as those taking 20 mg of the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac).

Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) is packed with antioxidants — and the darker the better. Dark chocolate also contains tyrosine, an amino acid that contributes to the production of dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure centers in the brain, according to the Women’s Brain Health Initiative, an organization that promotes research about brain aging diseases that affect women. Dark chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that make you feel pleasure.
Even in terms of nutrients, dark chocolate has value. “You get a good dose of iron and fiber,” says Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD. But remember chocolate has a lot of calories, so make a little go a long way.

One cup of lentils provides 90 percent of the recommended daily allowance of folate, a B vitamin shown in studies to help ward off depression, according Roberta Lee, MD, author of "The SuperStress Solution." In fact, a Harvard study showed people with depression may have a significant deficiency of folate.

Lentils also are a great vegetarian source of protein (18 grams in a cup), which is important for brain health. “People tend to have a problem getting plant-based protein into their diet," says Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD. Legumes, he says, are a great way to go.
Lentils provide lots of iron, too, which can boost energy. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency, and its symptoms can include depression, according to Ramsey.

According to the Women’s Brain Health Initiative, walnuts contain a variety of nutrients and other substances that help boost brain health, including omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and protein. Walnuts also are a good source of tryptophan, which plays a role in increasing serotonin levels, in turn helping us feel more relaxed and happy.

Walnuts provide magnesium as well. This crucial mineral calms and relaxes blood vessels and nerves. Up to two-thirds of Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, according to Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD.

Eating walnuts will help guard against magnesium deficiency, which has been linked to depression. In an article on depression and magnesium deficiency published in the Journal of Geriatric Medicine, the authors noted symptoms of magnesium deficiency range from apathy to psychosis.

Kale is a true superfood, says Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, who is so impressed with the nutritional benefits of this vegetable he wrote an entire book about it: "Fifty Shades of Kale." One cup of raw kale (in a salad, say) has only 33 calories, he says, but provides more than the recommended daily allotment of vitamins A, C and K.

Kale contains a good deal of folate (vitamin B9), so eat up — several studies have linked folate deficiency with depression, according to Ramsey. Kale also is a rich source of iron and vitamin B6 — both needed to make the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, which play important roles in mental health.

Kale also boasts omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a compound that helps lower the risk of depression, according to Ramsey.

Can a tomato a day keep the therapist away? Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that may help protect against depression, according to a Japanese study in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Researchers found a tomato-rich diet lowered the risk of depression. In fact, older people who ate tomatoes two to six times a week were 46 percent less likely to suffer from depression than those who ate tomatoes less often than once a week.

Look for smaller varieties, because much of a tomato’s nutrients are in the skin. A pound of grape tomatoes has more skin than a pound of larger varieties, Ramsey advises. "Also look for darker-skinned tomatoes because they have higher concentrations of other important brain-protecting compounds, such as anthocyanins." By canning some of your summer tomatoes, he says, you can have tomatoes year-round.