Emotional Health

Depression and Diet

January 11, 2017   /

Can what you eat help improve your mood or cause depression? Much still is unknown about the relationship between nutrition and depression, but a difference does exist between “feeling depressed” and having a diagnosis of clinical depression. Most experts agree that following an overall healthful diet, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly may help prevent some depression and manage symptoms. One of the most important contributions of nutrition to mental health is maintaining the structure and function of the brain. Here are some facts that can help you understand the relationship between depression and diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids might increase the volume of gray matter in the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in:

  • Anchovies
  • Butternuts (similar to walnuts)
  • Canola oil
  • Flaxseed
  • Herring
  • Salmon
  • Soy nuts
  • Tuna
  • Walnuts

B vitamins

The B vitamins have an effect on neurologic and brain health. Studies have found that some people with depression may have low levels of folic acid or vitamin B12. So far, no proof exists to show that taking any of these vitamins helps relieve depression, but eating foods high in these nutrients might help. Folate is found in:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Dried beans
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Lean beef
  • Liver
  • Mushrooms
  • Peanuts
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Wheat germ
  • Whole-wheat bread

Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods:

  • Beef
  • Clams
  • Crab
  • Halibut
  • Liver
  • Oysters
  • Tuna

Vitamin D

Vitamin D aids in the production of serotonin. Research has associated vitamin D deficiency with increased risk for major and minor depression in older adults. Vitamin D is found in:

  • Canned sardines
  • Fish liver oils
  • Fortified cereal
  • Fortified milk
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Herring
  • Salmon


Plant-based foods rich in phytochemicals make important contributions to normal brain function. The three classes of phytochemicals of interest include flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavanones. Examples of food high in phytochemicals include:

  • Apples
  • Berries, especially those that are red, blue, and purple
  • Citrus fruits
  • Grape juice
  • Grapes
  • Some spices
  • Tea, including green, black, white, and oolong


References and recommended readings

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Nutrition Care Manual®. Nutrition Care Manual Web site [by subscription]. http://www.nutritioncaremanual.org/. Accessed March 21, 2014.

Depression and diet. WebMD® Web site. http://www.webmd.com/depression/news/20040803/vitamin-d-ease-depression. Accessed March 21, 2014.

Ehrlich SD. Depression. University of Maryland Medical Center Web site.  http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/depression. Updated August 26, 2013. Accessed March 21, 2014.

Vannice GK. Medical nutrition therapy for psychiatric conditions. In: Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:956-969.