Winter can certainly bring on the blues. But if you’re struggling with depression or even just feeling a little down, you may be surprised to discover that the food you consume can make an impact on your mental health. The use of nutrient-dense foods to fight depression has been proven to prevent and even treat depression.
To better understand the link between depression and nutrient absorption, we looked at a few studies. One study pointed out: “Nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression. Many of the easily noticeable food patterns that precede depression … may include poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods. Nutritional neuroscience is … shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions.”
A study from 2018 found the highest scoring foods for depression were oysters and mussels, seafood, and organ meats. The highest scoring vegan foods were leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables. On the basis of this study, we’ve pulled together the foods these nutrients are found in that were connected to reducing and preventing depression.
As a bonus, recent studies have found that organic fruits, vegetables, and grains have more antioxidants, fewer nitrates and cadmium, and fewer pesticide residues than non-organic crops, making them more nutritious.
The 12 nutrients that can help you avoid or treat depression are:
- Omega-3 fatty acids are mostly found in fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, and cod liver oil. Patagonia Provisions is a good source for wild-caught fish high in omega-3. Vegans can get this nutrient from nuts such as walnuts, legumes such as kidney beans, and seeds like flaxseed, chia, and hemp. Other less common options include seaweed and algae. Organic seaweed can be found from our brand partner Seasnax. You can get omega-3 fatty acids in supplement form from our brand partner, NOW foods.
- Vitamin A is not naturally produced by our bodies, so we need to consume it regularly in our diets. Organic egg yolks from our brand partner Pete and Gerry’s and grass-fed milk from Stonyfield are excellent options for foods that contain this nutrient. Other excellent brands to source organic dairy from are Organic Valley, Good Culture, and Horizon. Vegan sources of vitamin A include organic squash, spinach, carrots, sweet potato, mango, and papaya. You can get organic spinach from Earthbound Farms and mango juice from Uncle Matt’s.
- Vitamin B6 can be found in organic cottage cheese, beef liver, tuna, salmon, or chicken. Vegan options include organic bananas, onions, rice, and raisins. Vitamin B6 can also be found in a supplement form from MegaFoods. We recommend organic rice from Lundberg Family Farms.
- Vitamin B12 is essential for positive neurological function. It’s found mostly in animal products, including organic eggs, milk, wild fish, and organic meat. The foods with the highest levels of B12 are clams, beef liver, trout, salmon, organic grass-fed beef, organic yogurt, and cheese. Vegetarians and vegans can find B12 in organic supplement form from Garden of Life foods.
- Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for beating depression such as organic chili peppers, bell peppers, kale, oranges, broccoli, papaya, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, strawberries, kiwi, mango, and pineapple. You can get a healthy dose of vitamin C from Uncle Matt’s.
- Iron comes from many sources. There are two types of iron: heme, from animal sources, and non-heme, from plants. Heme iron is absorbed up to 30 percent. Non-heme iron is absorbed by the human body in amounts less than 10 percent. Foods we recommend in heme iron form are organic grass-fed beef, organic pasture-raised eggs, organic lamb, wild-caught shrimp, clams, and tuna. For non-heme iron-dense foods choose organic spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, strawberries, watermelon, and beans. Excellent choices for heme-iron-rich foods can be found from Applegate, and eggs from Handsome Brook Farms.
- Folate, also called folic acid, is necessary for brain development. Foods that contain a lot of folates are organic asparagus, romaine lettuce, and spinach. Other options include organic beans, eggs, peanuts, and fresh fruits. Whole grains and seafood also contain good amounts of this nutrient. Three brands we recommend getting healthy organic folate from are Nature’s Path Foods, Rudi’s organic bread, and Dave’s Killer Bread.
- Magnesium can be found naturally in organic bananas, raspberries, avocados, spinach, kale, nuts, peas, broccoli, cabbage, and salmon. You can also find this nutrient in organic dark chocolate. Find organic dark chocolate from brand partners Ocho and Amy’s Kitchen. Certain studies link magnesium deficiency to depression.
- Potassium is found in organic plant-based foods such as apricots, bananas, oranges, a variety of beans, spinach, sweet potatoes, and zucchini. Also high in potassium are organic yogurt and wild-caught salmon. One study demonstrated that potassium deficiency can add to mental fatigue, which can make depression and its symptoms worse.
- Selenium-rich foods are organic dairy and whole-grain products. Milk, yogurt, and fortified breakfast cereals are excellent sources of selenium. A hearty bowl of organic cereal from Nature’s Path could potentially help with your mental health. Other foods to consider are organic chicken, turkey, beef, shellfish, and brown rice. Organic meats from Applegate and brown rice from Lundberg farms are also excellent choices.
- Thiamine is a nutrient also known as vitamin B1 and is found in whole grains, fish, and various meats. Wild-caught fish, such as trout and tuna, are good sources of this nutrient. Meats that are high in thiamine are organic pork and beef.
- Zinc is found in a wide array of organic food sources, such as oysters, dark meat chicken, beef, pork, yogurt, and milk. Vegan options are pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, oatmeal, peas, and baked beans. A good brand for zinc-dense foods is Orgain. One study concluded that zinc deficiency has also been found to cause numerous psychological disorders and problems.
As with all things relating to maintaining health, please consult your dietician or functional medicine doctor. Primary care physicians do not usually have nutrition training, so it’s important to discuss healthy diets with the proper health care provider. One route to take when looking for solutions for depression is getting a blood panel to find out what you’re low in and what options are available in both supplements and foods.
Lastly, with all these recommendations in mind, one of the most important choices you can make is to skip the chemicals and just go with organic.