Eat Happy! How Diet Affects Depression

Eat Happy!

In our last two blogs, we have looked at the link between diets and emotions. We’ve discussed the general topic and the supporting research. There are definitely foods that affect mood. They improve mood, aiding sleep, decreasing anxiety, and increasing energy levels. In this blog, we’ll look at how to control or improve our emotional and physiological status with food.

In the next few weeks we’re going to look at how to eat to address the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep Problems
  • Low Energy

Eat to Beat Depression

We all have our down days. There are many factors affecting our emotions, both to cause problems and to alleviate them. If you want to maintain a diet that can keep your emotions stable then what you cut out of your diet is as important as what you add to it.

According to Everyday Health, some things to avoid if you struggle with depression include:

  • Caffeine
  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Simple Carbs

Some feel-good foods to include in your daily diet:

Dark Leafy Greens

These greens are recognizable by their dark green color. It’s this color that tells you you’re on the right track – these greens have high amounts of vitamins A, C, E, K, minerals, and phytochemicals. These nutrients fight inflammation. Depression has been linked with brain inflammation. Joel Fuhrman, MD, discusses G-BOMBS in his book The End of Dieting

G-BOMBS are:

  • Greens
  • Beans
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Berries
  • Seeds


Avocados have oleic acid which helps feed your brain. They also contain healthy fat in the form of monounsaturated fat. They also contain:

  • Protein – about 4 grams
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamins B9, B6, and B5
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E12
  • Sugar – about 11 grams
  • Dietary Fiber – about 11 grams

Cinnamon / Peppermint

Putting cinnamon on food or in drinks can help you feel more alert and less tired. Peppermint has the same effects. Peppermint tea, drinks or food garnished with cinnamon or peppermint sticks, etc. can stimulate the central nervous system. This, in turn, will decrease fatigue, increase energy and enhance motivation.


Their high content of folic acid and alpha-lipoic acid makes tomatoes an excellent food to combat depression. Research shows about ⅓ of people suffering from depression have low folate levels. Folic acid helps prevent excess homocysteine. Homocysteine restricts the production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These substances play a big role in mental health. Alpha-lipoic acid helps the body with glucose conversion, increasing energy which stabilizes mood.


Beans are excellent sources of fiber, as most of us know. But they also help with blood sugar level stabilization, which affects your energy and thus can alleviate depression. They are also great anti-diabetic and weight loss foods.


Antioxidants fight levels of free radicals. Free radicals play a part in cellular damage, aging, other physical problems as well as mental issues. Eating high-antioxidant foods protect your brain from high levels of free radicals. These antioxidant/foods include:

  • Beta-Carotene:  apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, peaches, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach
  • Vitamin C: blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, and peppers
  • Vitamin E: margarine, seeds, nuts, vegetable oils, and wheat germ


Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years but they’re not all bad. WebMD says “smart carbs” can help calm you down. This is due to their mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Serotonin also plays a big role in sleep health. The “smart” carbs are complex carbs such as:

  • Whole Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes


Dairy foods such as low-fat cheese, milk, yogurt, and soy products contain tryptophan, an amino acid that assists in serotonin production. These foods are good sources of protein, which steadies your mind and increases and/or maintains your energy levels.


Selenium has been linked in studies to mood – low selenium levels can lead to depression. Selenium-rich foods are your best source of selenium. Supplements can possibly lead to too much selenium. Selenium-rich foods include:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Lean Meat – lean pork, lean beef, skinless chicken, turkey
  • Low-Fat Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Seafood – oysters, clams, sardines, crab, saltwater fish, freshwater fish
  • Whole Grains – whole grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal


In recent studies, scientists have found a link between low omega-3 fatty acids and depression. Other studies show a diet low in fish can lead to or exacerbate depression. Foods high in omega-3s include:

  • Fatty Fish – anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad, tuna
  • Flaxseed
  • Canolo Oil
  • Soybean Oil
  • Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Nuts – especially walnuts


Of course, diet is not the only thing that can help improve your mental and emotional state. You need to also address other issues such as weight and lifestyle. Studies show definite links between obesity and depression. Sedentary lifestyles can increase your danger of depression as well. Sleep problems also contribute to depression. Other lifestyle choices, such as consuming alcohol and/or drugs, interfere with your moods, your sleep, your energy, They can also decrease the antidepressant effect of depression medications.

If you suffer from depression, SplitFit recommends you first consult with your physician before changing your diet or making other lifestyle changes. You need to rule out other causes of your depression. Once that is taken care of, do your research on how diet affects mood, make lifestyle changes such as the cessation of smoking, drinking alcohol and/or using drugs. These substances can adversely affect you physically and mentally. Start and stick with a good exercise routine – a sedentary lifestyle has many negatives: weight gain, depression, increased risk of certain diseases, etc.

See a list of recommended reading on this subject below.

Recommended Reading

Depression and Diet

Foods to Help Fight Depression

Foods that Can Help with Depression

Diet and depression – Harvard Health Blog

The 10 Most Powerful Foods for Fighting Depression with Diet

The Food That Helps Battle Depression

Diet and Depression: Foods, Nutrients, and Other Factors

Clinical Trial Finds Diet Works for Depression

Diet and Depression

Image Credit: Everyday Health

Post by Andrea Rogers