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The 6 Best Foods to Fight Depression

Let’s explore how and why we can use food to fight depression. In this article we will discuss the best food for depression, presenting the top foods to eat and why, as well as listing some of the foods to avoid, in order to not aggravate depressive symptoms.

Recent research shows a link between inflammation in the body and depression. There are some things we can do to reduce inflammation in our bodies, and food has something to do with it. To find out more about depression and how inflammation contributes to the illness, check out my article on Using an Anti-Inflammatory Diet to Help Depression. You’ll see that a whole plant-based food can fight depression by reducing chronic inflammation in the body and, as a result, help reduce depressive symptoms.

A whole plant food based diet may not be the be and end all cure for depression, but why would you not give it a go, when there are so, so many other benefits compared to virtually zero side effects?

Image showing vegetable bowls to demonstrate that we can use food to fight depression.
Using food to fight depression

Foods to avoid for depression

Here are some of the most pro-inflammatory foods that should be avoided when struggling with depression, as our goal is to lower inflammation in the body.

  • Saturated and trans fats

Saturated and trans fats are really no good for anything. But when it comes to depression, they should be steered clear of, as they significantly contribute to inflammation. Artificial trans fats have been banned for health reasons, but naturally occurring trans fats still exist in animal products, namely meat and dairy. Sources of saturated fats are cheese, cakes and the like, chicken, pork, and burgers.

Image showing burger and fries, as an example to avoid saturated foods, as they are pro-inflammatory.
Avoid saturated foods where possible
  • Processed, fatty and sugary foods

Like saturated and trans fats, these foods should largely be steered clear of. Fatty foods reduce blood flow, which can make you feel generally unwell and groggy. Processed foods include a whole range of things from refined grains, to fried foods, processed meat, dairy, cakes, sweets, etc. Researchers from the University College London found that higher consumption of processed foods was correlated with higher odds for depression – whereas a more whole-food based diet was correlated with lower risk for depression.

Processed foods also includes refined sugars. Steer clear of processed sugars, because they can negatively impact insulin levels and mood swings and can therefore intensify depressive symptoms. Instead, reach for fruit that have high contents of natural fruit sugars. In combination with high amounts of fibre, the kind of natural fructose in fruits also keeps your blood sugar levels normal.

Image depicting bright coloured donuts. These are processed foods and refined sugars. they should be avoided for depression.
Steer clear of processed foods to avoid depression
  • Omega 6

Omega 6 fatty acids are essential for the body and need to be taken in through diet, as our bodies cannot produce them ourselves. However, omega 6 fatty acids also contain a component called arachidonic acid, which has been correlated to increased inflammation and depressive symptoms. These omega 6 fatty acids are especially present in chicken, eggs, and vegetable oils. Although omega 6 has important functions in the body, such as the reparation of cell membranes, it is also responsible for activating inflammatory processes.

If our levels of omega 6 are too high, inflammation levels in the body can become too high and lasting. This overreaction can also lead to allergies, allergic reactions and influence heart diseases. It is recommended to keep your omega 6 levels in check by reducing the amount of animal products consumed that are high in arachidonic acid.

  • Omega 3

Despite what you might have heard about omega 3 fish oils helping with inflammation, it is not quite what it seems. The omega 3 craze – especially about supplementing omega 3 – is mostly industry created to take advantage of selling you omega 3 supplements. In fact, the only reason our omega 3 to omega 6 balance is off, is because of our western diet, we tend to have overly high levels of omega 6 – as explained above.

Omega 3 supplements are therefore not necessary and not recommended, as they are not regulated and can have possibly dangerous components. Instead, you can perfectly well get all the needed omega 3s (and 6s) by eating a varied, whole plant food-based diet. Read below what food is especially good for omega 3.

Image showing omega 3 capsules. These supplements are not well regulated or safe and should be avoided.
Omega 3 supplements are not recommendable
  • Alcohol

Although this one may be an obvious one, I put it on here for extra attention. Not only does alcohol negatively impact many of the functions in our body, but it can trigger depressive symptoms quite intensely. Studies have found that people who drink more and have more regular hangovers are also more likely to report depressive symptoms, whereas people who stop drinking for a prolonged period of time report feeling better within a few weeks.

One of the reasons for this may be because alcohol is a “depressant” drug that affects chemical levels of the brain, including serotonin and dopamine levels – which have been linked to depression. Alcohol is also a key contributor to inflammation in the body, including your gut, liver, brain, and joints, thereby further promoting depressive symptoms. If you know that you struggle with depression or have depressive tendencies, best keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum.

Image depicting bottles of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and should be avoided.
Alcohol aggravates depressive symptoms

I included this list of foods to avoid for depression to drive home a point: just as with anything else, a healthy, varied, whole-food, plant-based diet will not only provide benefits for your physical health and well-being, but for your mental and emotional one, too! The same things that make us gain weight, more prone to disease and illness, and are the same things that negatively affect our mental health, too. So, let’s focus on what we can and should eat more of to alleviate depressive symptoms. Let’s dive into the best food to fight depression.

Best foods to fight depression

As we have now seen and as is discussed in my article Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Using Food to Fight Depression we can use whole, plant-based foods to fight depression. A lot of the foods described above to avoid for depression are animal foods, fatty, sugary or processed foods. And here are seven of the best foods for depression:

  • Dark, leafy greens

These include, for example, spinach, kale, and arugula. Dark, leafy greens help to fight inflammation in the body and brain and can, therefore, reduce depressive symptoms. Dark leafy greens are also very nutritious as they include vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as important minerals, such as magnesium. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with an increased risk for depression.

Image depicting a toast sandwich with spinach. Spinach is a dark leafy green and can help fight depression.
Spinach, a dark leafy green and good food to fight depression
  • Wholefood fruit

The emphasis being on the ‚whole fruit‘, which means no fruit juices. We need the fibre of the whole fruit more optimal nutrition. Fruit juices, on the other hand, are very high in sugar without the necessary fibre and should generellay be avoided.

Berries are especially good for depression and should be consumed daily, because they are some of the most antioxidant rich foods and help repair DNA in our body. Since avocados are technically a fruit, we list it here, as one of the best foods to fight depression. Avocados have healthy fats that help our brain run smoothly and fight inflammation. They are also high in protein in relation to other fruits, provide a lot of vitamins (K,B, and C) and – as all whole-food fruits – come with a lot of fibre.

Image depicting a bowl of acai with fruit and nuts - the perfect food to fight depression.
Eat berries for your physical and mental health
  • Eat your veggies

Especially tomatoes, mushrooms, and onion, leeks, and garlic. Mushrooms work as insulin opposing and help regulate our mood. They also promote healthy gut bacteria that contributes to our mood and can therefore be mood-enhancing. Garlic, onions, leeks and the like have anti-inflammatory antioxidants, which can be beneficial for depressive symptoms. Onions, garlic, leeks, chives and shallots are so healthy, they even help fight cancer. Tomatoes are high in folic acid and are therefore real depression fighters. Studies have found that one-third of depressive patients show folate deficiency. So, eat your veggies and you’ll be sure to consume enough foods to fight depression.

Image depicting chopping board with tomatoes and mushrooms.  Tomatoes and mushrooms are especially good foods to fight depression.
Tomatoes and mushrooms are especially good foods to fight depression
  • Spices

Some recommend saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, and oregano. Other sources also name ashwagandha, turmeric, or peppermint. Additionnaly, tumeric has been found to fight cancer cells and help with a variety of other diseases. It is one of the healthiest spices. Dr. Greger from Nutritionfacts.org explains how adding various spices to your meals can double or even quadruple your intake of antioxidants and nutrients.

Try adding a handful of cinnamon to your porridge or a teaspoon of oregano every time you make pasta. Fresh turmeric mixed with fresh ginger makes for a great tea! Experiment and see how you can add more spices, flavour, and health to your meals, and really make use of these foods to fight depression.

Image showing different spices. Spices have been shown to help with depression.
Add spices to your meal to fight depression effectively
  • Nuts, seeds, and grains

Nuts, seeds, and grains have a number of dietary benefits and can be easily incorporated into a variety of recipes. And, as promised: walnuts are among the most nutritious nuts and an important source of whole-food omega 3. Since our brains are largely made from lipids, it is important to provide it with healthy, unsaturated, whole-food fats. Brazil nuts are another ‘superfood’: they have been found to reduce cholesterol levels faster than the statin drug – without any negative side effects. Just a handful of Brazil nuts a month can have beneficial effects!

Image of nuts in a glass. Walnuts are especially nutritious, great sources of omega 3 and can a good food to fight depression.
Walnuts are a great source of omega 3
  • Dark chocolate – yay

Yes, it’s true. You are allowed to eat all the dark chocolate you want and it is actually good for your mental health! Well, let’s keep it balanced. But studies have indeed found that people who ate more chocolate reported less depressive symptoms.

Some explanations for this may be that chocolate contains psychoactive ingredients that a similar feeling of euphoria to that of cannabinoid. Dark chocolate also contains the ingredient phenylethylamine, which helps regulate mood. Although chocolate in general can have mood-enhancing effects, it is recommended to eat dark chocolate, as it has higher concentrations of flavonoids – antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.

Well, that’s good news, I’d say and will leave you to chew on that – get it? 😉

Image showing squares of dark chocolate and raspberry. Dark chocolate is also s great food for depression.
Have your cake and eat it, too 🙂

Curious to find out how you can integrate these foods to fight depression into your meals? Check out my article on Best Foods for Depression: 3 Whole Plant-based Food Recipes here. These recipes specifically include mood-boosting foods for a real feel good meal 🙂

You got this!

Keep sparkling

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