4 foods to reduce depression risks

4 foods to reduce depression risks

You may have heard a meal described as “brain food”. Well, there really are foods that provide appropriate nutrition for your brain.

Keep in mind that your brain is about 60 percent fatty acids. Your body can’t make essential fatty acids, so you need to get those nutrients from the food you eat or from supplements.

A few noticeable food patterns commonly occur before and during bouts of depression, such as:
  • Diminishing appetite
  • Skipping meals
  • Craving sweets.

Often, deficiencies in multiple nutrients, rather than a single one, are responsible for changes in brain functioning. The human brain is metabolically very active and uses about 20-30 percent of a person’s energy intake. People with consistently low energy intake often feel sad, apathetic or hopeless.

For some mental disorders, prescription drugs are available to help control symptoms. Unfortunately, some drugs, such as antidepressants, can come with side effects that may discourage patients from taking them. Skipping medications tends to result in poor treatment outcomes.

There is good news: Research has found that eating more of certain nutrients may help control depression symptoms in patients.

Nutritional therapies can be alternatives or complements to drug therapies. Learning about these therapies and making behavioral changes in diet can benefit patients suffering from depression.

Some interesting nutrition research results have been published by the National Institutes of Health. Here are some foods that may help manage depression:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Many of us have diets that are short on omega-3 fatty acids. Your body can’t make essential fatty acids, so you need to eat a good amount of omega-3s every day.

We can get omega-3 fatty acids from fish such as wild salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, herring and mackerel. Omega 3s are also found in walnuts, chia seeds and chicken fed on flaxseed.


Dietary proteins are made of amino acids, which are often referred to as the building blocks of life.

Protein intake and intake of individual amino acids can affect brain functioning and mental health. Many of the neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow signals to pass along the neurons in your nervous system.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made from the amino acid tyrosine and serotonin, which is made from the amino acid tryptophan. If the needed amino acids are not available, then the level of that particular neurotransmitter in the brain will decrease — and that can affect your mood.

A balanced diet with quality protein will typically deliver the amino acids you need. You can get protein from foods such as fish, eggs, chicken, turkey and dairy products. Dried beans, nuts and seeds also contain protein, although the protein in these plant-based foods may be low in one or more of the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce, so make sure to get a good variety.


Carbohydrates significantly affect mood and behavior. Research has found that diets low in carbohydrates may contribute to the onset of depression. Carbohydrate-rich foods tend to trigger production of the brain chemicals tryptophan and serotonin. These substances help promote a mental feeling of well-being.

Carbohydrates you eat can be used by your body to make glucose, which is how your brain gets energy. Complex carbohydrates (from fiber and starch in food) release their energy slowly, which is better than the quick release energy release of simple carbohydrates (such as sugars).

Complex carbohydrates come from whole-wheat foods, oats, soy, beans and wild rice.

Leafy Greens and Vegetables

Folate is a B-vitamin. A shortage of folate has been linked to depression and may also have a connection with fatigue and insomnia.

Good sources of folate include dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, nuts, beans, peas, asparagus and fortified grains.

A note about broccoli – it also contains selenium. This mineral supports your immune system and reproduction. Some studies have found low levels of selenium may contribute to depression, along with anxiety and fatigue.

Theresa Glasgow is a registered dietitian and the manager of Nutrition Services at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Milwaukee, Wis.

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About the Author

Theresa Glasgow
Theresa Glasgow

Theresa Glasgow, RD, is is a registered dietitian and the manager of food and nutrition Aurora Lakeland Medical Center.