Unfortunately, there's no specific diet that's been proven to relieve depression. Still, while certain eating plans or foods may not ease your symptoms or put you instantly in a better mood, a healthy diet may help as part of your overall treatment.
Antioxidants Prevent Cell Damage
Our bodies normally make molecules called free radicals, but these can lead to cell damage, aging, and other problems.
Studies show that your brain is particularly at risk. Although there's no way to stop free radicals completely, you can lessen their destructive effect by eating foods rich in antioxidants, including:
- Beta-carotene: apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, peaches, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato
- Vitamin C: blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomato
- Vitamin E: margarine, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ
"Smart" Carbs Can Have a Calming Effect
Carbohydrates are linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Experts aren't sure, but carb cravings sometimes may be related to low serotonin activity.
Choose your carbs wisely. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart or “complex” carbs (such as whole grains) rather than simple carbs (such as cakes and cookies). Fruits, vegetables, and legumes also have healthy carbs and fiber.
Protein-Rich Foods Boost Alertness
Foods like turkey, tuna, and chicken have an amino acid called tryptophan, which may help you make serotonin. Try to eat something with protein several times a day, especially when you need to clear your mind and boost your energy.
Good sources of healthy proteins include beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soy products, and yogurt.
Try a Mediterranean Diet for B Vitamins
A Spanish study, using data from 4,211 men and 5,459 women, found that rates of depression tended to rise in men -- especially smokers -- as they got less folate. The same thing happened for women -- especially those who smoked or didn't exercise -- but when they got less vitamin B12.
This wasn't the first study to find a link between these vitamins and depression. Researchers aren't sure which way the influence goes: do poor nutrient levels lead to depression, or does depression lead people to eat poorly?
In either case, you can get both of these B vitamins from foods in a Mediterranean diet. Legumes, nuts, many fruits, and dark green vegetables have folate. Vitamin B12 can be found in all lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.
Get Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D receptors are located throughout the body, including your brain.
A 2010 national study found that the likelihood of having depression is higher in people with low levels of vitamin D. In another study, researchers from the University of Toronto noticed that people who had symptoms of depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to get better when the amount of vitamin D in their bodies went up as you'd expect it to during the spring and summer.
Select Selenium-Rich Foods
Studies have reported a link between low selenium and poor moods. The recommended amount for selenium is 55 micrograms a day for adults.
Evidence isn't clear that taking supplements can help. And it's possible to get too much selenium. So it's probably best to focus on foods:
- Beans and legumes
- Lean meat (lean pork and beef, skinless chicken and turkey)
- Low-fat dairy products
- Nuts and seeds (particularly brazil nuts - but no more than one or two a day because of their high selenium content)
- Seafood (oysters, clams, sardines, crab, saltwater fish, and freshwater fish)
- Whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.)
Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Recently, scientists found that societies that don't eat enough omega-3s may have higher rates of major depressive disorder. Other studies show that people who don't often eat fish, a rich source of these fatty acids, are more likely to have depression.
Good sources of omega-3s, including alpha-linolenic acid, are:
- Fatty fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad, and tuna)
- Canola and soybean oils
- Nuts, especially walnuts
- Dark green, leafy vegetables
Your Weight and Lifestyle Matter, Too
People who are obese may be more likely to become depressed. And, according to several studies, people who are depressed are more likely to become obese. Researchers believe that may be the result of changes in your immune system and hormones that come with depression.
Fortunately, a nutritious diet including the foods above will help you get to and stay at a healthy weight. If you're having a hard time, talk with your doctor.
Many people who are depressed also have problems with alcohol or drugs. Not only can they interfere with your mood, sleep, and motivation, they can also reduce the effectiveness of your depression medications.
Drinks and foods with caffeine can trigger anxiety and make it difficult to sleep at night. Cutting back or stopping caffeine after noon each day may help you get a better night's sleep.