5 Foods That Ward Off Depression And Boost Mental Health

There are many causes of depression we cannot control, like genetics or past traumatic experiences. However, one thing that is within our control and has the potential to reduce the severity of depression is our diet. The reason for that is that food influences certain chemicals in the brain, like serotonin, which, in turn, regulates our mood. The nutrients that have been found to have a direct link to depression include vitamin D, vitamin B, Selenium, and others. 

Two studies, that were conducted in 2014 and 2017 showed comparable results. The first study concluded people whose diet was rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish were 16% less likely to experience depression than people who followed more carbohydrate-rich diets. The latter had similar promising findings; showing that symptoms of people with moderate-to-severe depression improved when they received counseling sessions and ate a more healthy diet for 12 weeks. More than 32% of the participants experienced reduced mood swings and anxiety, significant enough to classify their state as remission. 

These are the foods that are most effective in keeping depression at bay, according to experts.

1. Fish

Small, oily fish to be precise – salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. These fish are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that is likely to reduce depression due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation occurs when the body detects an intruder, like a pathogen or an irritant, and launches a biological response to try and remove it.

Sometimes, the body mistakenly perceives its own cells as harmful and prompts inflammatory reactions. Recently, more and more research is being done on the link between depression and the inflammatory response, showing a tight correlation between the two; hence, the anti-inflammatory properties of the fish listed above are beneficial in warding off depression.

2. Turkey and Chicken

Turkey meat is rich in tryptophan, which is an amino acid the body uses in order to produce serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is known to affect cognition and mood while melatonin is a hormone that’s notably involved in the sleep-wake cycle. The body is unable to produce tryptophan on its own and relies on the diet to obtain it. 

One study researching the effects on tryptophan on mood, exposed 15 healthy adults to a stressful environment twice – once when they had normal blood levels of tryptophan, and a second time when they had lower levels. Participants with lower levels of the amino acid notably experienced heightened feelings of anxiety, tension, and nervousness.  Tryptophan supplements were even found to promote and improve social behavior, so maintaining its intake naturally through food is highly recommended.

3. Cocoa

Many people would say chocolate makes them happy – and it turns out it isn’t just a myth. The truth is that highly processed milk chocolate won’t do a whole lot of good for your body, but raw cacao and dark chocolate, on the other hand, has a few important benefits. It is packed with antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and compounds like procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation in the body.

Another important compound of cocoa is PEA (or phenethylamine), which triggers the release of endorphins and other mood-enhancing neurochemicals in the brain. Finally, cocoa contains valeric acid and magnesium, two stress-reducing substances. 

4. Fruits and Vegetables

Several studies have shown a clear connection between the regular consumption of fruits and vegetables and mental well being. And this positive effect should not be underestimated. “If people eat around seven or eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day, the boost in mental wellbeing is as strong as divorce pushing people the other way to a depressed state,” said Dr. Redzo Mujcic from the University of Warwick. 

Fruits and vegetables are known to be one of the most powerful ways to fight inflammation and the richest source of antioxidants. Pay special attention to berries, grapes, mangoes, and apricots on the fruit front. When it comes to vegetables –  spinach, carrots, cabbage, asparagus, avocados, beetroot, radish, lettuce, sweet potatoes, squash – are the ones to look out for. 

It is important to note that fruit juices are considered to have the opposite effect on moods. They lack the fiber in whole fruits and retain the glucose. When consumed concentrated the nutritious sugar may hype you up quickly, but that energy is drained just as fast  

5. Nuts

Although cashews, brazil nuts, and hazelnuts are all helpful in supplementing omega-3 fatty acids (the effects of which were listed under the section of fish), the winner in the nuts category is the walnut. Not only are walnuts one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 they are also a great source for protein and support overall brain health.

When examining data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found that adults who ate nuts, and specifically walnuts, were more likely to have higher levels of optimism, energy, hope, concentration, and a greater interest in activities (the sampling included more than 26,000 American adults).