38 Foods for Depression That Are Instant Mood Boosters

Updated 12/07/17
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We’re not going to sit here and tell you that you can totally beat depression just by eating certain foods—it doesn’t work that way—but by consuming the right foods, you may be able to make yourself happier. If you’re feeling a little down, there’s nothing wrong with starting to incorporate more of these good-for-you items into your diet—but to note: It can be helpful to consult a therapist too. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, says that oftentimes people who experience depression have diets lacking certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and that can affect how they feel. “Our gut is considered the ‘second brain’— it’s why we often say that we have a ‘gut feeling’ about something,” he says. “So it stands to reason that the foods we eat play a role in the way we feel.”

How is that possible, you may ask? Well, neurotransmitters are the brain’s messengers—they control your mood and play a role in how our diet and mood are linked. Axe says when you’re not eating the right foods, you can have an imbalance of neurotransmitters, which can lead to both mood swings and anxiousness. The doctor has personally witnessed how a specific diet can keep you upbeat even in the midst of hard times. “One of my main motivators for wanting to educate people on eating and living well is the time I spent with my mom when she was battling breast cancer,” he says. “I know that avoiding processed foods and those high in sugar and sticking to fresh fruits, veggies, lean meats, and plenty of healthy fats helped my mom feel her best and allowed her to concentrate on tackling her cancer (she’s well now).”

Below Axe has rounded up the 38 foods for depression you should try to eat more of. Add these to your grocery list, stat.

Omega-3 Rich Foods

Axe says that it’s not uncommon for people with depression to have diets that are low in omega-3 fatty acids. These particular fatty acids help your brain function properly by promoting communication and reducing inflammation. Your brain lipids are made up of fatty acids and a whopping 33% belong to the omega-3 family, meaning they’re crucial for optimal brain function, says Axe.

Foods to eat: wild-caught fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and white fish; walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, natto, and egg yolks

Fruits and Vegetables

Getting enough fruits and veggies enables you to take in nutrients that support a stable mood. Specifically, fruits and vegetables high in folate can help the brain’s metabolic processes—research even shows that a lack of folate can cause depression. When you’re stressed, Axe says it’s wise to eat antioxidant-rich foods to combat biochemical changes. One study found that adding antioxidants for six weeks reduced both levels of depression and anxiety in a group of individuals.

For folate, eat: spinach, asparagus, avocado, beets, and broccoli

For antioxidants, eat: blueberries, goji berries, blackberries, cranberries, and artichokes

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are linked to higher levels of energy and a better mood due to the vitamins and minerals they contain. Additionally, these foods aid in the prevention of free radical damage related to depression. “It’s important to understand that not all fats are created equal,” says Axe. Research has shown that trans fats like hydrogenated oils can increase your chances of depression.

Foods to eat: avocados, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, and omega-3s like walnuts and flaxseeds

Lean Protein

According to Axe, protein is critical for supporting neurological function and balancing hormones. (Side note: It’s a mood booster and also gives us energy). The amino acids in these foods aid the body in many of its important processes. “When you don’t eat enough protein, you become fatigued, your immunity weakens, and you experience moodiness,” says Axe.

Foods to eat: grass-fed beef, lentils, wild fish, organic chicken, black beans, yogurt, free-range eggs, raw cheese, and bone broth protein powder

Probiotics

Foods high in probiotics contain good bacteria that help balance out any bad bacteria in our gut. According to Axe, when it comes to warding off depression, these foods give you more energy, support your cognitive function, and promote mental wellness. “A great way to consume probiotics is to drink kombucha every day,” says Axe. “It contains enzymes and B vitamins that boost energy levels and help to detoxify your body.”

Foods to eat: kefir, yogurt, kombucha, miso, raw cheese, and fermented vegetables

Adaptogenic Herbs

These buzzy Chinese healing plants improve stress hormones and relax the nervous system. “They help balance and protect the body by reducing cortisol levels when you’re under any type of stress,” says Axe. Rhodiola, in particular, increases the sensitivity of neurons, including neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are intrinsically linked to improving mood. On the other hand, ashwagandha does three things—combat the effects of stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and balance hormones. “The best part of these natural remedies is that there are no adverse side effects, as opposed to most antidepressant medications,” says Axe.

Herbs to take: Rhodiola and ashwagandha

So what do you think about these foods for depression? Tell us in the comments, and then read about the most popular health foods in 2018.

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