9 Foods That Help Relieve Depression

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A well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains contributes to your mental health as much as your physical health. Likewise, foods high in sugar, processed foods, and fatty foods are detrimental to your mental and physical well-being. 

Modern psychiatry often treats mental health conditions with prescription medication. However, medication alone does not address the nutritional deficiencies that often play a part in mental and mood disorders. 

According to the best available evidence, nutritional counseling may help fight depression. A healthy diet may relieve symptoms of depression with fewer side effects than medications. 

While vitamin supplementation can help manage some of these deficiencies, research shows that getting essential nutrients from whole foods may be even more effective than taking supplements

Our team of functional medicine doctors at PrimeHealth has helped hundreds of patients take charge of their mental health with whole-food diet plans. Schedule a free consultation today to see how we may help you!

1. Leafy Greens

Some of the best leafy greens for depression relief include spinach, kale, lettuce, and collard greens. 

Leafy greens are chock full of antioxidants, which can be instrumental in reversing damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are naturally occurring molecules in our bodies that have been linked to cell and DNA damage, chronic health problems, and aging.

In particular, free radicals can have a significant impact on brain health

This may be why consuming antioxidant-rich foods may help improve symptoms of major depressive disorder. Well-known antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Some of the most antioxidant-rich foods include: 

  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Berries (such as blueberries and strawberries)
  • Peppers
  • Sunflower seeds 
  • Almonds 
  • Hazelnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Leafy greens

2. Fatty Fish

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids are critical for brain function, including mood regulation. Fish like salmon, small mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of those omega-3s.

A lack of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has been linked to reduced production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Deficiency of necessary lipids in the brain is also linked to incidents of anxiety, depression, aggression, and other psychiatric conditions. 

Always choose low mercury fish like the ones mentioned above, as opposed to larger fish that contain more mercury (such as tuna). 

Despite diet and health trends that focus on eliminating fat, it is apparent that healthy fats are necessary for optimal brain and body function. 

Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: 

  • Walnuts
  • Raw olive oil
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds

3. Avocado

Another monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, is necessary for proper brain function and can prevent cognitive decline as we age. Some studies suggest that this healthy fat may be particularly helpful in preventing depression in women. 

Other oleic acid-rich foods include: 

  • Olives
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Milk
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4. Allium Vegetables

Allium vegetables such as garlic and onions have antidepressant effects. These vegetables are anti-inflammatory and have been associated with a reduced risk of cancer and several other health benefits. 

The full list of allium vegetables includes: 

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Chives
  • Shallots

Allium vegetables appear to improve gastrointestinal health, promoting both mental and overall wellness.

5. Whole Grains & Other High-Folate Foods

Whole grains are packed with folate (vitamin B9, aka folic acid) and other B vitamins. Folate deficiency has been associated with a higher risk of depression.

Folate also helps regulate levels of homocysteine, a biochemical linked with depression, when present in excess amounts. Homocysteine can inhibit the production of serotonin, dopamine, and other important neurotransmitters. 

Keep in mind that people with sensitivity to gluten and wheat will still want to avoid grains containing gluten, even if they are minimally processed or whole grains. Gluten-containing grains can cause inflammation in some people and lead to symptoms of depression. 

Gluten-free, folate-rich foods include: 

  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Fresh fruits

6. Beans

Fiber-rich beans improve gut health and reduce inflammation. Fiber also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which may affect instances of depression.

Beans are also rich in healthy carbohydrates, which may be linked to increased serotonin. This may be why people crave carbs when under stress. Note that not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbohydrates have been shown to increase depression.

When choosing your carbs, it’s best to stick to fiber-rich, unrefined options. The best carb-rich foods for people struggling with depression include:

  • Whole grains
  • Legumes (beans)
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Berries
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli

7. Shellfish

Shellfish are a great source of selenium. According to some studies, selenium may help with mood and anxiety. Higher selenium levels correlate with decreased experiences of depression, anxiety, and exhaustion. 

Selenium-rich foods include:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna
  • Halibut
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Whole grain

8. Lean Beef

Although typically linked to muscular health, higher protein intake has also been linked to reduced symptoms of depression. Some studies suggest that protein is critical for overall brain health. 

Animal proteins also tend to be high in vitamin B12. B vitamins, in general, are necessary for brain function and memory. Like vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin b12 has specifically been shown to help relieve symptoms of depression. This may be linked to the functionality of vitamin B12 in DNA synthesis and energy production in the body, but researchers are still unsure. 

We always recommend choosing grass-fed and organic meats, eggs, and dairy over conventionally farmed options, as the nutrient breakdown can differ greatly. 

Good sources of protein to support mental health include:

  • Lean beef
  • Poultry (such as turkey, chicken, and duck)
  • Fish (such as tuna, salmon, and tilapia)
  • Beans and legumes (such as soybeans, black beans, kidney beans, peas, and lentils)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy (such as yogurt, milk, and cheese)

9. Foods Rich in Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression. The link may be due to the function of vitamin D in the endocrine and immune systems

The best source of vitamin D is moderate sun exposure, putting those with less sun exposure at risk for deficiency. To get more vitamin D, stand outside in direct sunlight for 10-20 minutes each day, preferably before applying sunscreen.

How do you get someone to eat when they are depressed? 10-20 minutes of direct sun exposure may help improve someone’s mood enough to attempt eating. 

Can depression make you not enjoy food? Depression can take the joy out of eating. For someone who is depressed, start with small bites of a food without too much flavor, like fiber-rich whole grain bread. It’s also a good idea to set an alarm reminder to eat every 4 hours.

Vitamin D deficiency can be rectified by adding these whole foods to your diet:

  • Oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel)
  • Cod liver oil
  • Oysters
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified milk
  • Mushrooms

Antidepressant Superfoods

You may have noticed that certain foods made several of the lists above. These foods offer multiple nutrients and micronutrients that help prevent or reduce symptoms of depression.

The following foods contain a powerful combination of the nutrients listed above, as well as additional nutrients, such as probiotics and prebiotics, that are implicated in mental health-focused diets. These are the best “superfoods” for depression:

  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Oily fish
  • Avocados
  • Mushrooms
  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts and seeds (such as chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts)

What foods help reduce depression? Fatty fish, lean proteins, leafy greens, avocado, and dairy are all great options to eat when you’re feeling depressed. If you need a pick-me-up, try an unprocessed snack like nut and seed trail mix.

While all of the listed foods can impact your mental health, some may take longer to see the full effects. Fiber and protein-rich foods are more directly linked to serotonin production and may have the quickest effect on improving your mood.

What to Avoid

Some foods help your brain manage depression, while other foods contribute to the problem.

What is a food that can lower my mood? Highly processed foods like refined carbs, sugar, and processed fats can lower your mood. Alcohol can also contribute to depression.

Processed Carbohydrates

Processed carbs make up many junk foods, such as soft drinks, processed desserts, fast food, and potato chips. Research has linked the consumption of these foods to a higher risk of depression.


Can eating sugar make you feel more depressed? Although we tend to associate sugar with a temporary “high,” eating excessive amounts of sugar is linked to depression.

Processed Fats

Unhealthy fats have been shown to both increase inflammation and negatively affect brain function. Over time, these fats may increase the risk of depression or worsen existing symptoms.


Research shows that alcohol negatively impacts mental health. Research shows that alcohol is also implicated in other health problems, including an increased risk of several types of cancer.

Our favorite alternative to alcohol is Feel Free, a plant-based tonic that provides improved mood, sustained energy, and decreased anxiety without the many negatives of alcohol. 

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Top 3 Diets for Mental Health

1. The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet includes many of the depression-relieving foods on the list above, including sources of healthy fats, proteins, and B vitamins. This diet has been linked to a lower risk of depression.

2. The DASH Diet

DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The DASH diet aims to be high in protein, fiber, and certain micronutrients and low in sodium. It has also been associated with lower rates of depression.

3. Keto

The ketogenic diet is an extremely low-carb diet that has been shown to have several health benefits, including a positive impact on mood disorders.

The KetoFLEX diet is a less restrictive and more sustainable version of keto, allowing for more carbohydrates. The KetoFLEX diet is also a part of the Bredesen Protocol to prevent cognitive decline.

Talk to a Healthcare Provider at PrimeHealth

Talk to a licensed healthcare professional before making any major dietary changes. Your doctor can help you implement a whole-food diet as well as other lifestyle changes to combat depression, such as adequate sleep, regular exercise, and meditation

We’d love to help you improve your mental health. If you’re in the Denver area, schedule your free consultation today!


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