The Antidepressant Diet: Eat Well, Feel Better

The Antidepressant Diet: Eat Well, Feel Better
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

An antidepressant diet can’t cure psychological disorders on its own. However, nutrition is a key part of a multidisciplinary approach to treat depression. Something as simple as eating anti-inflammatory foods that are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C can help you improve your mood and well-being. 

Mark Twain said that the only way to stay healthy was to eat what you don’t want to eat, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d prefer not to do. It seems like somehow feeling good and enjoying inner balance is at odds with the delight of eating. However, nutritionists and even psychologists say that this is not, in fact, the case.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”

-Ann Wigmore-

The simple truth is that we eat poorly. Our interests in food closely resemble those of an eight-year-old child. We so often prefer things we can make quickly and give us that carb, salt, or sugar rush. There’s also another factor that makes our diet even worse: the poor quality of our crops. The soil lacks adequate organic material and the mass production of fruits and vegetables negatively affects their nutritional value.

An inadequate diet affects your well-being. As such, it’s crucial that you supplement any kind of psychological treatment or medication with a proper diet. The long-term results will be noticeable.

Doctor consulting a patient.

Can an antidepressant diet really help?

In 2017, several universities in Australia and New Zeland did a series of studies in collaboration with different hospitals. They published their work in the medical journal “BMC Medicine“. Their goal was to figure out if following a special diet could have some effects on patients diagnosed with depression. The results were positive and patients started to see results after about 12 weeks.

The relationship between mood and diet is an emerging field in what we call “nutritional psychiatry”. What’s more, there’s scientific evidence that what we eat significantly affects our emotions and well-being. Consequently, it’s worth paying attention to your diet and taking note of the following guidelines.

1. Whole grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Foods like brown rice, oats, or buckwheat provide a good amount of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that synthesizes the happiness and well-being hormone known as serotonin.

Oats for an antidepressant diet.

2. Leafy greens

Leafy green vegetables are an indispensable part of an antidepressant diet. When you think of leafy greens, you probably think immediately of spinach, but there are lots of other options. To get your dose of leafy greens, you can also eat broccoli, chard, watercress, kale, etc.

Leafy green vegetables are nutritious. However, they’re especially important for depression because they provide antioxidants, folic acid, and vitamins B and C which reduce stress and anxiety.

3. Oily fish

In this Australian and New Zealander study, participants ate oily fish two or three times a week. There are plenty of options at your local supermarket. You can choose salmon, tuna, trout, herring, mackerel, among others. The main benefit for patients with depression is the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish.

This type of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid is an exceptional neuroprotector. 

4. Chicken and turkey

Red meat is not part of the antidepressant diet. Instead, poultry is the meat of choice. Chicken and turkey are both excellent options. They’re rich in protein and contain an amino acid called tyrosine that facilitates increased levels of dopamine in the brain. Chicken and turkey both taste great grilled with a little lemon and olive oil. Not only that, but you’ll feel good too.

5. Beta-carotene

Carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes… Vegetables that are red or orange in color contain beta-carotene, an important nutrient that your body turns into a vitamin A precursor. Thanks to beta-carotene, your body will be more balanced, have better circulation, and be able to fight free radicals. Not only that, but eating oranges and red vegetables will improve your mood and can even relieve headaches.

Carrot juice for depression.

6. Nuts

Nuts are an indispensable part of the antidepressant diet. You should eat 4-6 nuts every morning as part of your breakfast. In general, nuts and seeds are very beneficial for mood disorders. They provide omega-3, vitamin E, antioxidants, and zinc. Nuts and seeds are powerful neuroprotectors and will improve your well-being.

7. Probiotics

Kefir is one of the best probiotics that you can find. It’s very low in lactose and, more importantly, it strengthens and promotes good intestinal flora. Keep in mind that most of the serotonin in your body is produced in the gut, not the brain. That’s why it’s so important to have a strong and healthy gut microbiota that facilitates serotonin production.

Your gut bacteria promote good digestion and help you absorb nutrients properly. But that isn’t all they do. Your gut activity also has an impact on your cognitive, emotional, and sensorial functions. A little kefir with fruit for breakfast can work miracles in the long-term.

A spoonful of probiotics.

If you’re experiencing depression (or any other psychological problem), following a healthy and varied diet will not make your problem disappear. What it will do, however, is promote the optimal conditions for your healing and treatment processes to be more effective. It will make you feel good and make more serotonin and dopamine available for your brain.

Eating healthy will always be worth the effort.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.