Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on November 11, 2021
It’s a good source of vitamin D. If you have very low levels of this nutrient in your body, that can sometimes cause depression. One Norwegian study found that people who took a vitamin D supplement were less depressed a year later than those who didn’t. Don’t like milk? Boost the D in your diet with enriched cereals and juices, and canned fish.
The traditional Thanksgiving bird has the protein building-block tryptophan, which your body uses to make serotonin. That's a brain chemical that plays a key role in depression, researchers say. In fact, some antidepressant drugs work by targeting the way your brain uses serotonin. You can get the same mood-boosting effect from chicken and soybeans.
This snack is rich in selenium, which helps protect your body from tiny, damaging particles called free radicals. One study found that young people who didn’t have enough of this nutrient in their diets were more likely to be depressed. The researchers couldn’t say that low selenium caused depression, though. Just one Brazil nut has almost half your daily requirement of the mineral so be careful to limit how many you eat. Other foods with this mineral include brown rice, lean beef, sunflower seeds, and seafood.
They’re full of beta-carotene, which you can also get from pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. Studies have linked this nutrient to lower levels of depression. There’s not enough evidence to say that it can prevent the disorder, but it can’t hurt to get more in your diet.
Clams and Mussels
These seafood favorites are a good source of B-12. Some studies say that people with low levels of the vitamin are more likely to have depression. It may be that a lack of it causes a shortage of a substance called s-adenosylmethionine (SAM), which your brain needs to process other chemicals that affect your mood. If you’re looking for other B-12 foods, try lean beef, milk, and eggs.
A jolt of caffeine can be a pick-me-up that helps you feel more motivated. But if you have postpartum depression or panic disorder, some studies suggest that it might make your symptoms worse. Other researchers say a cup of joe can lower your risk of getting depression, though they’re not sure why.
They’re packed with folate, which your brain cells need to work well and which may help protect against depression. Food manufacturers in the U.S. add this vitamin, also known as B9, to enriched grains like pasta and rice. You can also get it from lentils, lima beans, and asparagus.
This and other fish like herring and tuna are high in polyunsaturated fats. Researchers think those can help you fight depression. One type of these fats, called omega-3 fatty acids, may help brain cells use chemicals that can affect your mood. A few small studies show that people who weren’t depressed had higher levels of omega-3s than those with the mood disorder.
It might seem like just the thing to take the edge off your worries or make you feel more social. But most of the time, it’s best if you drink wine, beer, and mixed drinks only in moderation. You might feel better in the moment, but heavy drinking can make depression symptoms worse over time, because alcohol makes your brain less active. It also can make antidepressant medications less effective.
Caution: Junk Food
It may be fast and filling, but these processed foods can be bad news for your mood. Scientists have studied how diets high in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and fatty foods affect how you feel. Many found some link between these unhealthy eats and depression. Your best bet: a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
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