There is a clear relationship between diet and depression. Learn about the foods that can improve your physical and mental health.

Depression is the top cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million individuals annually. While depression treatment can be multifaceted, there are several steps you can take to improve your mood naturally, including eating foods for depression. 

Diet and nutrition play crucial roles in managing your well-being and boosting your energy. The best foods for depression include readily available items and produce that you may already have in your kitchen.

1. Leafy Greens

Spinach and depression may seem like a strange combination, but leafy greens like spinach, lettuce, swiss chard and watercress have numerous benefits that support both physical and mental health.

Leafy greens for depression contain folate, an essential ingredient in promoting healthy digestion and cardiovascular health. Most physicians recommend that pregnant women take folate throughout their pregnancy to mitigate the risk of birth defects. Additionally, leafy greens fight your body against toxins, help feed your gut and build enzymes.  

Additionally, leafy greens are a significant part of the Mediterranean diet. Research shows that people following this diet tend to lead happier and healthier lives. They are also less likely to feel depressed than people who are not on this diet.

Consider adding more leafy greens to your diet by:

  • Making more salads for lunch and dinner
  • Blending them into fruit smoothies or other juices
  • Baking them into chips, like kale chips
  • Using the greens as wraps, like in lettuce wraps for burgers
  • Cooking them into soups

2. Blueberries

Blueberries taste delicious, and it turns out these tiny berries are full of antioxidants, too. Antioxidants help protect your body from the free radicals that can damage your cells. They can also protect your cholesterol, lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease and even improve cognitive brain function.

Additionally, eating blueberries for depression may also have mood-boosting effects. Berries appear to have similar impacts as valproic acid, which is a mood-stabilizing medication that helps regulate emotions.

Blueberries contain the antioxidant flavonoid anthocyanin, which is associated with reduced inflammation and the risk of depression. Finally, they also contain vitamin C, which can be beneficial for reducing the negative impacts of stress.

3. Salmon

Salmon also hosts several benefits and is noted as one of the most nutritious foods in the world. For one, salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for reducing the risk of cancer and lowering blood pressure. Salmon also contains an impressive amount of protein (22-25 grams per serving), which makes it a filling, low-fat food.

Salmon also contains the antioxidant astaxanthin, which helps protect the brain and nervous system. Astaxanthin can also prevent skin damage and promote youthfulness. 

Finally, salmon works hard to fight inflammation. The relationship between inflammation and depression continues to emerge through research. Scientific studies continue to demonstrate higher rates between higher inflammation and increased risk of depression. This fact may also be because inflammation causes many serious diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Any of these diseases can also increase the risk of depression.

4. Oysters

Oysters and depression share a powerful relationship. Oysters contain many significant nutrients and minerals that yield great health benefits. Oysters have high levels of important macro and micronutrients including protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, copper, manganese and selenium. They also are rich with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with general health and well-being.

Oysters also contain very high levels of zinc. Zinc is associated with boosted immunity and faster wound-healing rates. This makes the body stronger, and it can be a powerful weapon for proper development and growth.

Finally, it has long been presumed that oysters act as an aphrodisiac. This theory likely stems from the high zinc content. Zinc has been closely associated with sexual dysfunction, and zinc deficiency can lead to symptoms related to impotence and erectile dysfunction. Thus, oysters can be a beneficial asset for one’s sexual and emotional health.   

5. Dark Chocolate

If you needed another excuse to dive into a chocolate indulgence, here you have it. Dark chocolate helps depression, and it can also help improve your overall health. Contrary to popular belief, dark chocolate can be extremely nutritious. A chocolate bar containing 70-85% cocoa can have 11 grams of fiber, 89% of the recommended daily intake for copper, 98% of the recommended daily intake for manganese, and 67% of the recommended daily intake for iron. 

Dark chocolate also contains exceptional levels of antioxidant activity. Some research suggests that cocoa has even higher levels than fruit (including blueberries). Like other healthy foods, it can also improve brain function, protect the skin from harmful sun damage, and reduce heart disease risk.

Best of all? Research in a 30-day trial showed that eating dark chocolate positively impacted mood. Here’s your permission to indulge in moderation and reap the dark chocolate depression benefits.  

6. Bananas

Bananas are a tasty and convenient snack, and bananas help depression. That’s because the fruit contains serotonin, an essential neurotransmitter that balances mood and daily functioning. Most antidepressants work to boost serotonin levels in the brain. 

That said, eating a banana doesn’t improve your mood directly. The serotonin doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier. However, bananas do contain vitamin B6, which helps the body create serotonin. You need the daily recommended amount of this vitamin to regulate your body’s serotonin production.

Additionally, bananas are packed with fiber, low in calories, and have very little fat. They are also a rich source of Vitamin C and potassium, which boosts nerve and muscle health. 

7. Walnuts

Eating walnuts for depression is a great choice. Walnuts, like most of the other foods already mentioned, are also rich in antioxidant activity. Walnuts have a higher antioxidant activity than any other nut. The activity comes from a combination of polyphenols, melatonin, and vitamin E. They also have significantly more omega-3 fatty acids compared to other nuts.

Moreover, walnuts can help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce stress and depression. Walnuts also promote a healthy gut, which can improve your overall health and boost physical energy. Finally, walnuts are also associated with male fertility and sperm health. 

8. Avocados

Whether you’re smearing it on toast or whipping it into your favorite guacamole, avocados are as tasty as they are healthy. Avocado is the only fruit that provides monounsaturated fatty acids, and it also contains almost 20 minerals and vitamins like vitamins B6, C, E, and K and folate, magnesium, lutein and potassium. 

If you struggle with depression and avocados seem like an easy choice to eat, they’re also healthy for the heart, may help prevent osteoporosis, and can also promote healthy vision. Avocados also contain tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin. This can help promote a good mood and general well-being.

9. Sweet Potatoes

Don’t just wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy this healthy treat. Eating sweet potatoes for depression has many benefits. These potatoes have many nutrients including high levels of vitamin A, beta-carotene and fiber. They may also help stunt the growth of foodborne bacteria from harming the body.

Sweet potatoes are also rich in magnesium, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. Research shows that magnesium deficiency can result in higher levels of depression. Moreover, magnesium deficiency may also have a link to insomnia. Because sleep problems and depression can be interconnected, it is vital to make sure you have enough magnesium in your daily diet. 

10. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds may be tiny, but they are full of amazing benefits. The word chia derives from the Mayan term for strength. A single ounce serving of chia seeds boasts a staggering 22 grams of fiber, 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, 30% of the recommended daily intake of manganese and magnesium, and 27% of the recommended daily intake of phosphorus. Chia seeds are also full of antioxidants. 

When eaten regularly, they can lower the risk of heart disease, reduce blood sugar levels, and promote bone health. They can also help reduce chronic inflammation.

11. Beans

Beans and depression may also seem like a strange combination, but beans, legumes and peas are all great sources of many nutrients including fiber, vitamins and protein. They are full of vital nutrients like folate. They also are rich in the antioxidant, polyphenols. 

People who consume beans regularly have lower rates of stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. They also have lower rates of cancer, diabetes and problems associated with the liver.

Beans are also excellent in helping control appetite for individuals seeking to lose weight. That’s because they are packed with fiber and healthy starch- which can create fullness and stave off cravings. Moreover, beans can also promote positive gut health.

Diet and Depression

There does appear to be a working relationship between diet and depression. Eating the recommended foods above can help boost overall physical and emotional health. Below are some additional types of diets that can help with depression.

12. Mediterranean Diet

The link between eating a Mediterranean diet and depression is an interesting one, as those who follow this way of eating tend to have lower levels of depression. The Mediterranean diet primarily consists of:

  • Plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts)
  • Healthy fats (olive oil, avocado)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Limited red meat
  • Fish and poultry

13. Fermented Foods

There is also a pronounced relationship between fermented food and depression. Fermented foods can promote positive gut health and reduce inflammation. Fermented foods include:

  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickled vegetables

14. Raw Foods

Raw foods consist of unprocessed, plant-based and whole foods. Many people also opt to choose organic foods when following this method. Raw foods consist of:

  • Raw vegetables and fresh fruits
  • Nut milks
  • Raw nuts, nut butters and seeds
  • Soaked and sprouted beans, legumes and grains
  • Purified water
  • Green food powder
  • Fermented foods

15. Antioxidants

It is important to eat a diet rich in antioxidants for depression, as it yields both physical and emotional health benefits. The foods listed above have antioxidants. Other options include:

  • Pecans
  • Goji berries
  • Cranberries
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Grapes
  • Tea

16. Supplements

Many people take supplements for depression. Supplements can be especially important if you have a nutrient deficiency. You should always consult with your doctor before taking any new supplement. 

Related Topic: Natural supplements for anxiety

Natural supplements for depression include:

  • Ginseng
  • St. John’s Wort
  • 5-HTP
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Tryptophan
  • Folic acid

Depression is a complex condition that can be devastating without the right care. If you or someone you love is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring depression, The Recovery Village can help. Reach out to The Recovery Village to speak with one of our team members and learn about how co-occurring disorders treatment could meet your needs.

a woman in a black cardigan smiles at the camera.
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
a woman standing in front of a tree.
Medically Reviewed By – Nicole Arzt
Nicole Arzt is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in Southern California. Her clinical emphasis lies in working with females with substance use, eating disorders, and complex trauma. Read more

The World Health Organization. “Depression.” March 22, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.

McQuillan, Susan. “Foods and Supplements That May Help Fight Depression.” Psycom, March 20, 2019. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Leech, Joe. “10 Proven Health Benefits of Blueberries.” Healthline, October 9, 2019. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Spritzler, Franziska. “11 Impressive Health Benefits of Salmon.” Healthline, December 20, 2016. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Staughton, John. “8 Wonderful Benefits Of Oysters.” Organic Facts, March 6, 2019. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Gunnars, Kris. “7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate.” Healthline, June 25, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.

University Health News. “Cocoa Benefits: Mood, Anxiety, and Conte[…]ove In Just 30 Days.” March 9, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.

McCulloch, Marsha. “13 Proven Health Benefits of Walnuts.” Healthline, July 9, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Ware, Megan. “12 Health Benefits of Avocado.” Medical News Today, September 12, 2017. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Gunnars, Kris. “11 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds.” Healthline, August 8, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Butler, Natalie. “What are the health benefits of beans?” Medical News Today, November 30, 2017. Accessed May 28, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.