Nutrition to Support Depression Article

Nutrition to Support Depression

Publish Date February 20, 2024 4 Minute Read

Cold air, gray clouds and gloomy weather can really damper your mood, and it can be hard to shake, especially when it feels like your mind is a gray cloud. Sometimes, these feelings can be attributed to depression, which can come in many different forms and can be overwhelming. When feeling symptoms of depression, it’s important to connect with your doctor or a mental health care provider to understand what treatment may be right for you. For some, that could include looking at the link between food choices and depression. Let's see how food choices can be a part of a holistic treatment approach.

What is Depression?

Depressive spectrum disorder means there are changes in the body's chemistry due to genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors. This spectrum disorder is like an umbrella that covers a range of depression types, such as dysthymia, major depressive disorder (MDD), postpartum depression, late-life depression, seasonal affective disorder and more.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

A depression diagnosis is indicated by the presence of any 4 of the following symptoms: sleep changes, loss of interest, inappropriate guilt (hopelessness), lack of energy, concentration changes, appetite changes, psychomotor changes and suicidal thoughts. Other symptoms that may be present include prolonged sadness, unexpected crying spells, chronic irritability, agitation, anxiety, chronic pessimism or indifference, indecisiveness, social withdrawal, and unexplained aches and pains.

If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor or mental health care professional for diagnosis and treatment options.

Key Nutrients to Incorporate into Your Diet

Treatment for managing depression doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. While working closely with your doctor or mental health care provider, you can also incorporate nutrients that may play a role in supporting brain health.

Magnesium - This mineral is involved in about 300 enzymatic reactions, some of which are key to supporting a healthy nervous system and hormone regulation, aiding in brain signaling. Magnesium can be found in nuts, bananas, avocados, milk, legumes, yogurt, dark chocolate (aim for 75% or darker), grains and fortified cereals.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids - This type of fat has anti-inflammatory properties and comprises 10-15% of brain matter, making healthy brain signaling possible. DHA specifically is a type of omega-3 that’s most abundant in the brain, so try to aim for DHA sources of omega-3s, like fatty fish, salmon, mackerel, sardines, fish oil supplements and marine algae supplements (a vegan option to get DHA). In addition to DHS, there is a different type of omega-3 called ALA, commonly found in some plant foods like flaxseed and nuts. ALA can be converted into DHA, but its conversion rate is minor.

Vitamin D - We usually hear about how sunlight puts us in a better mood - and there’s brain chemistry behind it. Whether you get vitamin D from food or the sun, vitamin D impacts neurotransmitters, biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress. While the main source of vitamin D is sunlight, it can also be found in foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, milk and yogurt. If you have low vitamin D levels, you may need to work with a health care professional to understand vitamin D supplements that might be right for you.

B Vitamins - B vitamins are a jack of all trades, helping the body do basically everything, like producing red blood cells, aiding thyroid function, DNA formation, energy production - you name it. Particularly, folate and B12 help with nerve tissue protection and the formation of serotonin. B vitamins can be found in meat, leafy greens, nutritional yeast, milk, broccoli, whole grains, legumes and clams. If you’re looking into folate and vitamin B12 supplementation, look for those that have methyl-folate and methyl-cobalamin, respectively, since these have better absorption.

Dietitian-approved foods to support depression.

More Tips to Support Yourself

While nutrition can be a game-changer for some people's depression, depression can be treated holistically, including socially, physically and mentally. However, this can be easier said than done, and having an awareness of when there are bad days and good days can prevent a "rut" or cycle from happening. Check out the lifestyle tips below that can possibly help with depression.

  • Low-effort Meals - try making a batch of soup to freeze for tough days or have ingredients for smoothies on hand.
  • Lean on a support system – whether it’s calling, texting, or meeting for coffee, having a support system is important.
  • Practice gratitude – keep a daily gratitude list or reflect on something you are grateful for at the end of the day.
  • Go outside – Get some fresh air by taking a walk, sit on your front porch or simply open a window to let the air in.

Depression can be debilitating. Know if you’re suffering from depression, you aren't alone, as 1 in 10 Americans report having depression. Talk to someone you trust, and know it’s okay to seek help, which can look different for everyone. For more resources, visit the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Website or call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. You can also find additional mental wellness tips from our experts.

Disclaimer: Please note that this information is educational only and doesn’t provide individualized healthcare recommendations. Please work with a doctor or mental health care provider when necessary.