To Ease Depression Symptoms, Eat These Foods

Over 264 million people suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. Depression is a disease that causes a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medication can correct these imbalances, but what we eat can also make a difference.

The nutrients in our gut can trigger chemicals in the brain, which makes some foods ideal for depression. Some fruits can make people feel better within hours, and some nuts have far more anti-depressant nutrients than others. If you want to ease depression symptoms, learn which foods are the best choices.

More Carrots, More Positivity

Believe it or not, research has linked eating carrots to optimism. Harvard researcher Julia K. Boehm discovered how carrots differ from other vegetables: their high beta-carotene levels. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that provides carrots’ orange color, and they have a positive impact on mood.

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During her study, Dr. Boehm discovered that smokers who ate carrots felt more optimistic about quitting their habit. Beta-carotene fixes free radical damage that may help peoples’ brains as well. Hence, carrots have been reported as an anti-depression vegetable.

Fermented Foods Help Your Brain By Aiding Your Gut

Although pickles get bashed for their high salt content, they have many benefits. All fermented foods–including sauerkraut and yogurt–can improve depression. In 2015, a study in Psychiatry Research found that pickle-eaters experience less social anxiety and neuroticism. Patients with depression could benefit from this.

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to the researchers, gut health and mental health are closely related. Fermented foods supply “good” bacteria that promote GABA, a brain chemical that manages anxiety. GABA can calm people down even if they aren’t experiencing anxiety, which is why pickles can aid depression patients.

Eat Blueberries, Feel Happy

Blueberries provide healthy flavonoids that could improve depression symptoms within hours. According to a 2017 study in Nutrients, children who eat blueberries experience a more positive mood. This effect only lasted for a while, but eating blueberries consistently could have a greater effect, the study claimed.

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Blueberries may also assuage other mood disorders. Research by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) examined rats who ate blueberries. The rats displayed fewer genetic and biochemical drivers of depression. Because other mood disorders have similar symptoms to depression, blueberries can help those, too.

Dark Chocolate Helps; Regular Chocolate Doesn’t

Anyone who has eaten chocolate during a mood slump knows how it can lift your mood. But dark chocolate, in particular, has been linked to lower depression rates. In 2019, London researchers announced that chocolate-eaters are less likely to report depressive symptoms. In small amounts, dark chocolate can benefit your heart health and blood pressure.

A gloved man holds a block of blended milk chocolate and dark chocolate.
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Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The scientists also differentiated between chocolate and dark chocolate. Although regular chocolate did not affect mood, dark chocolate lowered depression symptoms by up to 70%. The high cocoa content of dark chocolate offered nutrients that regular chocolate doesn’t.

Why Walnuts Are Better Than Other Nuts

Research suggests that people who eat walnuts may have a lower risk of depression. In 2019, researchers examined depressive symptoms of people who ate walnuts, no walnuts, or walnuts with other nuts. After their symptoms were tested, walnut-eaters displayed 26% lower depression than non-walnut eaters.

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According to the scientific journal Nutrients, walnuts contain antioxidative polyphenols that nourish the brain. Even young adults without depression have a happier mood after eating walnuts, claims a 2016 study. This result has not been replicated with other nuts, so we hope you like walnuts.

To Feel Calm, Drink Chamomile Tea

Many people drink chamomile tea to fall asleep, but the herb’s benefits go far beyond that. According to a 2012 study, consuming chamomile causes a “significantly greater reduction” of depression symptoms. The chamomile, which participants ate through a capsule, also reduced anxiety.

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Whether you drink chamomile tea over the long term or the short term, it could help. In 2013, scientists at the University of Nottingham found that chamomile relaxes blood vessels. This lowers blood pressure, which signals to your brain that you can feel calm again.

A Few Bananas Make A Difference

Researchers have noticed that countries with a high banana diet, such as China, have lower rates of depression. In 2020, research in the Journal of Affective Disorders put this correlation to the test. As it turns out, the correlation is true. Moderate banana intake in males reduces depression, as does high banana consumption in females.

A peeled, browning banana sits on a wooden cutting board next to banana slices.
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Mike Marsland/WireImage

In animal studies, banana peel and pulp lowered depressive symptoms in mice. You can credit banana’s phyto-antioxidants, says Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. These nutrients can boost memory, assuage anxiety, and improve mood.

Choose Low-Fat Dairy, Not Whole-Fat

In 2017, scientists at Tohoku University analyzed how dairy intake affects depression. They concluded that low-fat dairy–including milk, yogurt, and cheese–lowers peoples’ risk of depression. Patients who drank low-fat milk also experienced fewer depressive symptoms.

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Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

Along with healthy protein, milk provides an amino acid called tryptophan. This compound is known to improve mood. During the study, whole milk made no difference in depression. Researchers believe that whole milk’s trans-fatty acids offset the tryptophan, essentially canceling it out. Next time you shop for yogurt, milk, or cheese, buy low-fat versions.

Gain Omega-3s From Salmon

For years, scientists observed that people who eat more fish experience fewer depression symptoms. After much observation, they found that omega-3 fatty acids are responsible. During one study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, participants felt less depressed after consuming omega-3 supplements.

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Edwin Remsburg/VW Pics via Getty Images

Fatty fish, such as salmon, provides a natural supply of omega-3s. Unlike other nutrients, omega-3s can easily travel through the brain membrane, says Harvard Health Publishing. Their anti-inflammatory effect soothes the brain. If you want a better mood or a healthier brain, eat more fatty fish.

Pumpkin Seeds Are Anti-Depressants

Pumpkin seeds supply many nutrients that can combat depression. For instance, one cup of pumpkin seeds contains 42% of your daily magnesium recommendation. A lack of magnesium may worsen anxiety and depression symptoms, says a 2012 study in Neuropharmacology.

A chef holds three pumpkin seeds.

In 2012, researchers tested pumpkin seeds on rats, and they claimed that the seeds have “antidepressive activity.” Perhaps its zinc can also be an explanation. According to the Iranian Journal of Psychology, zinc supplements can assuage depression symptoms. All of these nutrients make pumpkin a great choice for mood.

Studies On Coffee Have Been Mixed

The relationship between coffee and depression is complicated and not fully understood. Several studies conclude that coffee reduces depression. In 2011, a Harvard study found that drinking four cups of coffee per day reduces the risk of depression by 20% in women. A review in Molecular Analysis & Food Research noted that caffeine, especially in coffee, lowers depression symptoms.

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Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Some researchers believe that coffee helps because it reduces inflammation and disrupts some neurotransmitters. However, some studies found that coffee worsens depression, such as a 2014 review in Rivista di Psichiatria. In short, coffee may help your mood, or it may not.

Onions Improve Neurotransmitters

Some evidence has proposed that onions could ease depression. In 2008, an animal study examined the effects of onions. In rats, onion powder increased neurotransmitter function, which produced “antidepressant-like activity.” Usually, an imbalance of brain chemicals causes depression. If neurotransmitters work better, they can send more “happy” chemicals through the brain.

Whole white onions lie in a pile.
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Dmitry FeoktistovTASS via Getty Images

Although few studies link onions to depression, many show off onion’s anti-inflammatory properties. According to Redox Biology, consuming onions reduces inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Internal stress can worsen depression, so aim to eat anti-inflammatory foods such as onions.

Spinach May Clear The Mind

Spinach not only nourishes the body; it can also help the mind. In 2018, research in the Journal of Clinical Medicine explored spinach’s impact on mice. After eating spinach, mice displayed fewer signs of stress and depression. Their blood nutrients changed for the better, too.

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Although this is an animal study, spinach still shows promise for humans. It contains tryptophan and folate, two nutrients can increase serotonin levels in the brain. According to a 2015 study, brain inflammation can exacerbate depression, and spinach fights inflammation throughout the body.

Why One Psychiatrist Recommends Oysters

For years, psychiatrist and clinical professor Dr. Drew Ramsey has advised his patients to eat oysters. His recommendation has some scientific backing. For instance, oysters are healthy sources of zinc and iron, which increase dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that helps people feel pleasure.

Oysters sit on a place with lemon wedges.
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That said, studies have not examined the relationship between depression and oysters, specifically. Dr. Ramsey’s patients also ate a colorful, healthy diet along with their oysters. Still, oysters offer a substantial amount of omega-3s like salmon does. It can’t hurt to eat a few more.

Flaxseed Can Adjust Brain Chemicals

Like fish, flaxseed offers fatty acids that may appease the brain. A 2011 study discovered that flaxseed oil eases bipolar depressive symptoms in children. The seeds’ nutrients adjusted chemicals in the brain that may help peoples’ moods.

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These results have been replicated in animal studies. In Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers examined rats who consumed flaxseed oil. Rats who displayed symptoms of postpartum depression felt better after eating the oil. You can also grind flaxseeds into smoothies, oatmeal, cereal, or baked goods.

Spice Things Up With Turmeric

Throughout the past several years, scientists have examined the benefits of turmeric. This includes depression. According to researchers from the American Medical Directors Association, turmeric “appears to be safe, well-tolerated, and efficacious among depressed patients.” Specifically, the main nutrient in turmeric, curcumin, is to blame.

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Curcumin has many healing abilities, and many researchers believe that it is also an anti-depressant. It can even soothe symptoms in atypical depression and other mood disorders, claims the Natural Medicine Journal. You can add turmeric to many dishes, and curcumin supplements are also available.

How Legumes Keep You Healthy And Happy

Legumes–including beans and peas–may do wonders for mental health. In 2010, scientists tracked severe depression in menopausal women. Eating legumes reduced the symptoms of depression in these women. Both frequent and moderate consumption of legumes positively influenced their emotions.

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Of course, legumes contribute to an overall healthy diet. Research in BMC Psychology noted that a healthy, nutrient-rich diet of legumes, fruits, and vegetables could significantly improve mood. Meanwhile, sugar and salt-rich foods can worsen mental health overall. Legumes also provide healthy fiber, protein, and antioxidants for your body.

Tomatoes May Help, But They Need More Evidence

Grab some pasta sauce because a tomato-rich diet could improve your mood. In 2013, Japanese researchers observed how tomatoes impacted an elderly population over age 70. Unlike other vegetables, tomatoes drastically lowered depression symptoms by 34% in participants.

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That said, many researchers are skeptical of this research. It is well-known that a diet high in vegetables and fiber can relieve depression, and the study has some issues with its results. But unless you have a tomato allergy, there is no downside to eating more. Tomatoes provide fiber and antioxidants that can influence your mood.

Brazil Nuts Offer Much-Needed Selenium

Brazil nuts have one benefit that other nuts don’t: high levels of selenium. In 2014, researchers at the University of Otago found that selenium impacts depression. “Our strongest finding was that young adults with the lowest selenium concentrations reported the most depressive symptoms,” said lead author Dr. Tamlin Conner.

Whole Brazil nuts lie in a pile.
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Lena Trindade/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images

An imbalance in this nutrient can result in more frequent “low” moods. Just one Brazil nut provides half of your daily selenium requirement. But beware: high selenium levels also place people at risk of depression, the study says. If you’re worried about a selenium imbalance, talk to your doctor.

For A Better Mood, Cook With Olive Oil

Several studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to a lower risk of depression. People on the Mediterranean diet mainly cook with olive oil. With its antioxidants, healthy fats, and anti-inflammatories, olive oil has all the nutrients to combat depression, asserts BMC Psychiatry. Olive oil is the best mood-lifting cooking oil.

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Altan Gocher/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

In 2016, Australian scientists concluded that eating the Mediterranean diet greatly reduces depression symptoms over 12 weeks. “Two big factors that contribute to the depression-fighting properties [of olive oil] involve two of its more famous nutrients: omega-3 fatty acids and fiber,” says naturopathic physician Vickie Modica.