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Best Foods for Depression

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Updated July 01, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The best foods for depression are, of course, those which are part of a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Although there have been no specific diets that have been shown to treat the symptoms of depression, there certain types of foods which are particularly high in nutrients which have been associated with depression symptoms when they are lacking in your diet. So, eating these foods as part of a well-rounded dietary plan may be worth considering.

1. Fish

Current evidence suggests that either a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids or an imbalance in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the brain may be a factor in depression. To correct this imbalance, experts recommend upping your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids by consuming smaller cold-water fish - such as herring, mackerel, wild salmon or sardines. Larger fish and farmed fish, however, should be avoided due to concerns about toxic mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls in their flesh.

If you don't like fish, fish oil capsules are a convenient way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet without having to eat fish.

2. Nuts and Seeds

If you are allergic to fish, or prefer a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, many nuts and seeds - for example, walnuts, flax seeds (either the oil or ground flaxseed is fine) and chia seeds - can also help you increase your intake of this essential nutrient.

In addition, nuts are a good source of trace minerals like magnesium and selenium. Low levels of these nutrients have been associated in various studies with depression, so increasing your intake could be helpful.

3. Whole Grains

Whole grains tend to be rich in the B vitamins. And, because studies have demonstrated both a link between B vitamin deficiencies and depression and a protective effect in those who consume adequate levels of these vitamins, eating more whole grains could be helpful in fighting depression.

In addition to the B vitamins, whole grains are also a good source of magnesium, deficiencies of which have been linked to depression symptoms.

Some examples of whole grains are whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice and oats.

4. Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables are a good source of folic acid, as well as magnesium. Low levels of both have been linked to increased rates of depression.

Leafy green vegetables include foods like spinach, kale and broccoli.

5. Foods to Avoid

Eating a good diet for depression isn't just about adding in more healthy foods, however. It's also about avoiding foods which may contribute to your low moods. Cutting down, or eliminating altogether, foods which have been associated with depression symptoms, like processed sugars; caffeine-containing beverages like coffee, tea and soda; and alcohol will go a long way in helping you feel better as well.

Sources:

Benton, D. "Selenium Intake, Mood and Other Aspects of Psychological Functioning." Nutritional Neuroscience. D. 5.6 (December 2002): 363-74.

Mokhber, N. et. al."Effect of Supplementation with Selenium on Postpartum Depression: A Randomized Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial." Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine. 24.1 (January 2011): 104-8.

Rakel, David. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2007.

Sanchez-Villegas, Almudena et. al. "Association of the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern With the Incidence of Depression: The Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra Follow-up (SUN) Cohort." Archives of General Psychiatry. 66.10 (2009): 1090-1098.

Skarupski, KImberly A. "Longitudinal association of vitamin B-6, folate, and vitamin B-12 with depressive symptoms among older adults over time." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 92.2 (2010): 330-335.

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