5 Foods to Eat When You're Depressed

What to eat to improve your mood
Top-down view of woman eating fruit salad

Feeling blue? Many people seek comfort from favorite foods like chocolate kisses, salty chips, and pillowy pastries when they're feeling down. But if you really want to boost your mood, make different choices, nutritionists say. Although clinical depression is a serious illness that requires treatment beyond nutrition, changing what you eat can help beat garden-variety blues caused by stress, and will boost low energy, too.

"We reach for what we think will make us feel better, but we too often wind up making ourselves feel worse in the long run," says Beth Reardon, director of nutrition at Duke University's Duke Integrative Medicine. The wrong foods can cause physiological reactions that intensify symptoms such as lethargy, irritability, and cravings. Meanwhile the right foods -- like the following five -- can stabilize blood sugar, eliminate mood swings, and boost neurotransmitters in the brain, all factors that influence your emotions.

Try these smart choices when your mood needs a little boost:

1. An omelet -- just don't skip the yolk

Eat it for: The B vitamins and protein. Egg yolks are the vitamin-B-rich part of the egg.

Other examples: Lean beef, wheat germ, fish, poultry

Why they help: A diet rich in B vitamins can help lessen the severity of depression symptoms. B vitamins, especially B-6 and B-12, can help improve neural function -- the way the neurotransmitters of the brain send signals, which helps govern mood. There's also a growing link between vitamin B deficiency and depression. A 2010 study of 3,000 older adults followed over 12 years found that those with lower intake of these vitamins had a higher risk of depression, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The protein in eggs (as with lean meats) helps you feel satisfied longer, stabilizing blood sugar. And eggs can be consumed in a variety of ways, from scrambled to used as a French toast batter to boiled and chopped up as a salad topper -- so long as you go easy on the accompanying animal products that are high in saturated fats, like bacon or butter.

2. Nuts and seeds

Eat it for: The magnesium

Examples: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, peanuts. (Green leafy vegetables and whole grains are also high in magnesium.)

Why they help: Magnesium, a mineral found naturally in nuts and seeds, influences production of serotonin, a "feel-good" brain chemical. Magnesium also affects overall energy production.

Bonus: Nuts are also a good source of protein and healthy fats. And as a whole food, they make a healthy alternative to processed snacks, provided you choose unsalted and unsweetened varieties. Salt and sugared coatings don't add any health benefits and may make you overeat because they set up cravings in the brain for more and more salt or sugar.

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.


14 days ago, said...

Please don't add 'splenda' to your strawberries or any fruit, use natural stevia instead-a true plant source. Splenda is a chemical, not from a plant source. The body rebels against these types of chemicals. :)


about 1 month ago, said...

Irritability is my telltale symptom. I also experience low energy, too much time in bed, less interest in personal grooming, and avoiding social opportunity. I so far as being depressed, its not so much about feeling bad. It's not feeling good.


5 months ago, said...

Don't seam to get rid of my sadness withdraw,no willing to get up and go like I use to. What is so wrong with me.need some one to tell me please.


over 1 year ago, said...

The more 'whole person approach' one can take to depression, which can be a life threatening, energy draining illness..the better. Clearly, avoidance of harmful substances such as alcohol and drugs, and being a non smoker, and looking at vitamins and supplements are all good strategies. But for some, with lifelong clinical depression - medications are critical, although my ex husband took, over the years, everything from Lithium, to Depakote, to Elavil..on and on. Nothing really helped, and when at last his violent behavior placed me in harm's way a his time, I bailed out. That was in 2003. His daughter and I remain in touch. It is 2014 as I write: he has late stage Alzheimer's, being cared for in a nursing home. Sadly, it turns out, HIS depression over the five years we were a couple, may in fact have been very early signs of developing AD. So, my thought is - take depression seriously, whenever - and however it shows up. Use all resources at your disposal. Get proactive. Diet, therapy and counseling, lifestyle changes, medications, natural remedies, clinical evaluations..whatever helps you move forward and see the light at the end of the depression tunnel!


over 1 year ago, said...

If any food helps with what you think is depression, you're not depressed, you are just having a bad day. The only thing that ever helps me during depression is helping someone else, with anything, even small things.


almost 2 years ago, said...

I have really bad depression and I am starting to stop eating.. what to do?


about 2 years ago, said...

thanks for the info!


about 2 years ago, said...

Except for the ancient grains (which I will not try to find or buy or eat), I can readily obtain all the others. Thank you.


about 2 years ago, said...

I like bringing mom non-salty mixed nuts, along with fresh fruit. The strawberries in the summertime around here are very pretty. Just snip off the tops, give them a dusting of Equal or Splenda, and serve them that way, or maybe with a little spoon of sour cream. I also unpack, then hand her foods to unwrap and set out. She enjoys the bright colored paper of the Mc Donald's chicken sandwiches. Or individual wedges of low fat cheese. If you incorporate a little 'presentation ritual' with your loved one, and he/she is not clinically depressed but simply having a blue day - my "Snack Theatre" may just do the trick for them: help them eat better and...put the kibosh on that low mood!!


about 2 years ago, said...

I would have thought fresh fruit would be an excellent source to combat depression.


about 2 years ago, said...

Amazing. These are staples in my regime every day. As well as plenty of water!!


about 2 years ago, said...

Very "comforting" information. I eat the food mentioned already, but not realizing they also lifted down mood. Thank you.


over 2 years ago, said...

Explanation and some detail.


about 3 years ago, said...

becouse I generaly go for the sweets when i am stressed Will try to do better


over 3 years ago, said...

But I would never do that.


over 3 years ago, said...

Usually people comfort themselves with sugary high-fat junk foods which eventually leads to a habitual form of self-medication, and a problematic one. This article introduces alternative nibbling strategies.


over 3 years ago, said...

Eating usually makes people feel happier.


over 3 years ago, said...

I already eat almonds and eggs, when I have bread, it is the best kind, the one with the ancient grains in it. I will try the green tea, also. I have Severe Recurring Major Depression, and have been battling it for over 40 years. It has been a real fight sometimes to stay alive. Part is situational and part is a chemical imbalance. If I can do something with what I eat, that would be helpful.


over 3 years ago, said...

Very good suggestions. I trully enjoy munching on peanuts and celery sticks,


over 3 years ago, said...

Great ideas. Very helpful. Clear presentation.


over 3 years ago, said...

Good tips


over 3 years ago, said...

HELP!!! I AM ON SEVERAL MEDICATIONS FOR DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY AND IM MISERABLE!!!


over 3 years ago, said...

I AM 68, HAVE BEEN BLUE SINCE 20.TRIED ALL ANTIDEPRESS.WITHOUT SUCESS. VERY LITTLE EXCERCISE BECAUSE MIGRAINE IS TRIGERED USING OXICODONE 10 NOW


about 4 years ago, said...

L-theanine in green tea to help focus and calmness together. Also helpful was finding out that Magnesium makes serotonin just like complex carbs do. But the most profound insight I gained here was the study showing depression being linked to not enough B vitamins.


over 4 years ago, said...

Wow! Now I know why I'm always craving chocolate ! I've got to break the cycle with the sugar cravings. I wake at 2 in the morning because my sweet tooth is in high gear & so I get up and eat Oreos!!! Have to stop that if I want to drop the weight that I've gained from being on certain medications. That will be a tough one to say the least!


over 4 years ago, said...

How many pounds of these would you need per meal to really help with depression?


over 4 years ago, said...

Though omelet and nuts are part of my daily breakfast,but by knowing its nutritional values a psychological dose is added to the intake. H S ISSAR


over 4 years ago, said...

I've had clinical (major) depression for over 20 years. I'm told I have a chemical imbalance in the brain. I've reached a point where one of my problems is bi-polar. I can sense when I'm starting down hill. Having the knowledge that these foods perhaps will help me is a boost. I take B6 and B12 already. I will add magnesium. I've gone through 28 ECTs and that has been overall a very bad experience. Some days, I feel like throwing in the towel. I'm only 59 years old. I am a working musician. When I'm playing for a crowd or working the audience during a break or before and after a gig, I'm a totally different person and sometimes I have to crash after I get alone. Thanks again for the article.


over 4 years ago, said...

It helps to know what I can do to for myself that is easy and does not cost a lot of money compared to medications.


over 4 years ago, said...

I like this. We hear all the time "you are what you eat" I accept the premise -- "what you eat helps with how you feel and think" Quality comments. I enjoy reading and sharing these ideas


over 4 years ago, said...

5 things is easy to remember and having what they help is great.


over 4 years ago, said...

Emphasising not to discard the egg-yolk for an omelet.


over 4 years ago, said...

It helped to know what foods contain what vitamins. I also take B complex with B-12 for energy


over 4 years ago, said...

Those of you who cook with ancient grains, find undetectable ways to add wheat germ, protein powder to foods -- receipes, tips, greatly appreciated. Comments on periodontal advice not to eat nuts and seeds as they are hard to floss and create pockets under gums -- your thoughts? Salud.


over 4 years ago, said...

Like Thumper107, I want to know why the tuna is limited to once per week.