Good Foods For Depression: The Ultimate Guide

What we eat plays a much bigger role in our overall well-being than we might think. Improving our diet may not only help our physical health, but our mental health too.

Read our guide to find out which foods can help ease symptoms of depression.

The best foods for boosting our mood and energy

Our diet plays an important role in how well we feel. Some foods can affect blood glucose and insulin levels, which in turn cause our blood sugar to drop. Recurrent low blood sugar is linked with mood problems, so it’s important to eat regularly to keep our mood balanced. 

When we’re in the depths of depression, managing to feed ourselves can feel like the last thing on our minds, and we may not feel able to make healthy choices. On tough days, we might need to make quick and less healthy choices – and that’s okay. 

While no single food can promise to be an all-around cure for depression, research has shown that eating certain types of foods can boost our mood and ease symptoms of depression. Mood-enhancing nutrients include iron, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, magnesium, potassium, thiamine, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, and C.

Here are some suggestions for the best food groups to improve our mood and energy levels:

Fruits & Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables such as watercress, spinach, mustard greens, lettuces, kale, chicory, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and collard greens, all provide a dense source of nutrients. Rich in folate, magnesium, and vitamin B, these leafy greens have a low glycemic index, making them good for blood sugar levels. 

Other nutrient-rich sources of fruits and vegetables include strawberries, lemons, papaya, peppers, pumpkin, butternut squash, and fresh herbs. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans and peas have also been found to be highly nutritious, and including them in our diet may be beneficial for our mental health.

If the preparation of these foods feels too much right now, we could use frozen or pre-chopped vegetables, or even a tinned option.

We don’t need to add all of these things at once – we could try adding something different to one meal, or introduce some of these foods slowly into our diet throughout the week. Whatever we can manage right now is okay.

Healthier fats 

We can try new things at our own pace. Photo: Team Design

Healthy fats play an important role in supporting mental health, especially when dealing with depression. We often think that healthy eating is about removing fat from our diet, but healthy fats are necessary to maintain bodily functions, help with nutrient absorption, and give us energy.

Increasing our intake of Omega-3 may help to improve depression. Research has shown that this essential fatty acid can help to reduce depressive symptoms, and whilst this isn’t a definitive solution, its anti-inflammatory properties make it a good choice to include in our diet. 

Some good Omega-3 choices are avocados, nuts and seeds, and oily fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines. 

Often, healthier fats are expensive to buy, but fish, for example, is often cheaper when bought tinned. If these choices aren’t accessible to you right now, it’s okay to carry on with the resources available to you. 

Protein

Protein has also been found to be crucial in maintaining overall health, including our mental well-being. It contains an amino acid called Tryptophan which converts to serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that regulate mood and sleep. While it’s not a magic cure for depression, incorporating protein-rich foods into our diet can be beneficial. 

Organ meats are nutrient-dense, making them a good all-around choice of mood boosters. 

Oysters, mussels, and clams are rich sources of protein. Edamame beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, and mung beans all contain high amounts of protein, too. Many of these can be bought dried or in tins and can be an inexpensive way of creating meals like soups and stews, that are packed with goodness.

It is recommended that we include protein at every meal. Protein can also be found in nuts, eggs, dairy and veg, so it may be easier than we think to include it. If creating something new feels overwhelming, we could try adding something protein-rich to a current favourite meal, such as grated cheese, or a leafy side salad.

Wholegrains

Wholegrains are a good choice for helping to improve our mood. They provide a slower energy release than regular grains and are rich in Tryptophan, which as we know, could be beneficial for people suffering from mental health issues. This slower energy release keeps our blood sugar more stable and, therefore, our mood more steady.

Wherever we can, choosing wholegrains over white bread, pasta, flour, and rice, will be beneficial for our mental health. Good choices are quinoa, brown rice, oats, barley, and rye amongst others – these are all high in vitamin B, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, selenium, and magnesium.

If our diet is currently heavy with some of the foods that may not be benefitting us, it’s important not to be hard on ourselves. Living with depression is hard and making any sort of changes can feel overwhelming. We could begin by swapping white bread for wholegrain, and white pasta for brown. We can take things slowly and make just one new choice at a time, or try different things gradually throughout the week.

The best foods to avoid

Avoiding foods that aren’t so beneficial can be challenging as they are often ‘fast’ foods, designed to be quick and easy to grab. Although these can be convenient when our energy is low or we have limited time, these foods typically offer us little nutritional value, which is so important to us when we are trying to alleviate symptoms of mental illness.

Because blood sugar levels are important for regulating our mood, it’s helpful to try and avoid or limit ultra-processed foods containing saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sugars. These can be found in sweets, fruit juices, white bread/pasta/rice, packaged cereals, crisps, biscuits, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, fizzy drinks, pastries, pizzas, ready meals and many more processed items. 

Many of these foods have a high glycaemic index and may cause inflammation in the body. Research has connected both of these factors with an increase in depression symptoms. 

When we consume high quantities of these types of foods, it can cause our blood sugar to become imbalanced and trigger the secretion of counter-regulatory hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These can make us feel more anxious, and irritable and even cause hunger. 

There are steps we can take to cut down on our intake of these types of foods. We could swap sugary fruit juices for water, take our tea without sugar, and choose fruit as a morning snack instead of a packet of crisps. We could replace white bread and pasta with wholemeal, and aim to leave unhealthier options off our shopping list so they’re not in the house.

Avoiding alcohol is also important. Alcohol is a depressant, so whilst many of us may drink to try to feel better, it will have the opposite effect on us. Even drinking a small amount regularly will affect our mood. 

Instead, it can help to focus on staying hydrated and increasing our water intake. Our brain needs water to function optimally, and research has found that increasing our water intake may reduce symptoms of depression.

Supporting ourselves

Even on days when we think we’re failing. Photo: Team Design

Completely changing our diet can feel overwhelming. Little by little, we can introduce new ways of doing things that will slowly become habits. On better days, batch cooking can help so that we always have something healthy in the freezer for those days it feels too challenging to cook.

Not every day will be perfect and it might feel like we are taking one step forward and 2 steps back on our journey to recovery. We may have days where we eat things that we know aren’t very beneficial to our health, but we must remember to be gentle with ourselves – we are doing the best we can right now. Remember that if today doesn’t feel easy, tomorrow may feel better. Even the smallest change in our choices can take us one step towards where we want to be. 

Conclusion

When we suffer from a mental illness, many factors within our lives may be contributing to how we are feeling. We must look at the whole of ourselves and that includes how we are keeping ourselves healthy from the inside. 

There is often a link between the foods we are choosing and how we are feeling. There are some simple ways to make changes to our diet and begin to include more nutrient-dense foods, that may help us to feel healthier, and improve our mental health.

We can take this at our own pace, learning as we go, and discovering how different foods make us feel. If some days it feels too much to choose healthier options then that’s okay – that food is still fuel, and we are doing our best in that moment.

Sharing is caring: please share this post to help others, you never know who might need it. 

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