More foods to eat when you're depressed
3. Cold-water fish
Eat it for: The omega-3 fatty acids
Examples: Wild salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, tuna (not more than once per week), rainbow trout, mackerel. Fish-oil supplements are a practical alternative for those who don't eat these cold-water fish at least three times a week, Reardon says.
Why they help: There's a reason fish is known as "brain food." Fatty fish such as wild salmon contain the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which has been shown to increase the membrane quality and nerve function of gray matter in the brain. Twenty percent of the gray matter in the brain is composed of DHA. Some studies have found that DHA consumption especially increases gray matter in the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the cingulate, three areas of the brain associated with mood. People with severe depression have less gray matter in these areas.
Fish is also a great source of lean protein, which stabilizes blood sugar. Eating small amounts of protein with meals can help keep your mood on a more even keel.
4. Ancient grains
Eat it for: The complex carbohydrates
Examples: Quinoa, millet, teff, amaranth, spelt, barley
Why they help: Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, which means they don't cause spikes in blood sugar that can create roller-coaster moods. Complex carbs also increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
While any whole grain is good, so-called "ancient grains" are even better, according to Reardon, because they're less likely to be man-modified and processed. Packaged, processed, and refined foods made with wheat flour and sugar, in contrast, tend to be digested quickly, causing cause blood sugar to spike. When this happens, the body responds with an oversecretion of insulin, which winds up moving too much sugar into cells -- and blood sugars plummet. The end result: poorer concentration, fatigue, mood swings, intense cravings, and overeating.
Ancient grains are increasingly available at mainstream grocery stores and big-box stores such as Costco and Sam's Club. Look where rice products are shelved. Many ancient grains can be cooked like pasta or rice and served in their place as side dishes, in casseroles, or as a base for fish or chicken.
Bonus: Some ancient grains are a whole-grain alternative for those who are allergic to wheat or have gluten intolerance. (Barley, though, contains gluten.)
5. Green tea
Drink it for: The amino acid L-theanine
Examples: Hot green tea, brewed iced green tea -- including flavored varieties like jasmine green tea or berry green tea
Why it helps: L-theanine is an amino acid found mainly in tea leaves; it's been shown by EEG tests to stimulate alpha brain waves. This can improve focus while also having a calming effect on the body.
"Despite the caffeine, the L-theanine in green tea seems to be profoundly relaxing, with effects that last up to eight hours," Reardon says. L-theanine is easily absorbed and can cross the blood-brain barrier, adding to its effectiveness.