Nutrition Articles

A Healthy Diet for Dealing with Depression

The Link Between Food & Your Mood

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Although the foods you eat cannot treat depression, your diet does have significant effects on your mood, energy levels, mental health, and your ability to cope with stress. If you suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), certain dietary changes can help you get well when combined with a treatment program outlined by your health care provider.

Talk to Your Health Care Provider
Be open and honest when discussing your symptoms and feelings. Because depression can have many underlying causes, your doctor should perform a complete physical and also check the following:
  • Thyroid. The thyroid gland controls yours metabolism but indirectly affects your mood. An overactive thyroid can make you feel anxious and irritable, while an under-active thyroid can cause sluggishness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, weight gain, and hair loss.
  • Iron levels. Low iron stores can alter your mood, cause fatigue and difficulty concentrating, and decrease mental alertness.
  • Use of oral contraceptives. Birth control pills can also shift hormone levels and alter mood swings, depression, and fatigue.
  • Sleeping habits. Changes in your sleeping patterns and the quality of your sleep can be closely related to your mood. A lack of sleep can cause many symptoms similar to those of depression.
If your doctor diagnoses you with clinical depression, work with her to develop a treatment plan that suits your lifestyle and discuss what role nutrition might play, especially if you receive prescription medications. The following guidelines are not cures for depression, but they are things to consider along with your treatment program.

Dietary Tips for People with Depression

DO structure your meals. Eat at approximately the same times each day and don't skip meals. Enjoy three well-balanced meals and plan snacks between meals. This will help insure that your body is getting the right nutrients throughout the course of the day.

DO eat quality nutrients. Dieting itself is a stress on the body. Individuals who are trying to lose weight and have a history of depression must work to eat foods that are good for the body and the brain. Try incorporating more whole foods, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats by starting with this list of super foods.

DO eat plenty of calories, even if you are trying to lose weight. Extremely low-calorie diets alter your metabolism and increase your risk of malnutrition. Eating less than 1,000 calories per day reduces the amount of tryptophan (an essential amino acid that is needed to produce serotonin) in your body. As a result, serotonin levels drop, which increases symptoms of depression and its chances of recurring. If you have trouble meeting your calorie needs, read Calorie-Boosting Tips.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • As someone who's struggled with depression and weight for a long time I can say this article is SO TRUE. First thing that really really helped me was to add a quality fish oil to my daily nutrition (Innate Choice Omega Efficiency). in TWO DAYS I could tell a difference. I kid you not TWO DAYS! And the eating of regular healthy meals also made a significant difference.

    Unfortunately so does cutting back on caffeine. I'm from Seattle, I love coffee and drink 4-6 cups a day! Since I fasted from coffee for my 10 day cleanse, I can now very much see the effects of coffee on my body (my bladder is not happy when I have a lot of coffee on board, I'm uptight and anxious more than I realized, it quenched my appetite for a healthy breakfast) .

    So I'm walking talking proof of the positive effects of making the changes in this article. - 5/29/2014 1:16:46 PM
  • Great article - 12/29/2013 7:09:54 PM
  • I am so thankful to my adult daughter for for turning me on to this website and all it has to off! I am over one week out and have not only lost weight already, but improved my flexability, walked daily and over all been more active as well as improved my way of thinking! Thank you forall the great support and information! - 2/12/2013 10:19:11 AM
  • 1. Eat brain food aka saturated fat and cholesterol, that is what your brain runs on. A very good choice is extra virgin cocnut oil (the one that smells like coconut).

    2. Avoid foods that throw your hormone system out of wack: worst food ever is soy that in not fermented, it messes bid time with your hormones.

    3. get enough iodine in your system, this you need for your thyroid, also available as a suplement (lugol's)

    4. get rid of the processed salts and use keltic seasalt instead, wich is actualy a mineral complex, bur dont forget to eat some fat with that otherwise your body can't digest it properly.

    5. Liver from healthy animals is a true vitamin boost or go for fermented cod liver oil. - 2/9/2013 6:28:33 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    Definitely have your thyroid checked. Depression is actually one of the symptoms of being hypothyroid (low thyroid). It was one of the symptoms I had, and the depression went away once I was on the right dosage of thyroid medication. - 2/9/2013 1:08:12 PM
  • Cut wheat from your diet and increase fat substantially. As long as you keep sugar and starch low you can eat plenty of good fat. Best fat? Coconut oil! - 2/9/2013 11:54:53 AM
  • Try eliminating ALL wheat products and see if the depression lifts. - 2/9/2013 11:28:26 AM
  • This is very true! I have been eating better this past month trying to take out processed foods, salt sugars, and eating food that is good for me. I have every food group and trying to cut out white flour, greasy food, and what not. I am on the opposite even though. I need to gain weight and not lose it. Anyway, I have lots of energy; my mood has switched so much! I canít believe it is the middle of winter and I donít feel hardly depressed. I have been fighting for the past 2 years depression and loneliness and in January I started a new life style with food change and I feel so great! I added more fruit, whole grains, yes whole grains people be careful about what youíre eliminating. If donít have a gluten allergy or sensitivity donít take it out of your diet. Fact is we need ďgoodĒ carbs and good fat in our diets to function. I hate fad diets I see people go on. They just starve themselves and then when they eat normal again their body gains everything back. Just eat proportionally and get out and move your butt! Weights lose and gain is a slow process when doing it right and healthy! Oh and if you arenít diabetic throughout artificial sweeteners donít use them! FYI

    Oats and good cereals are great for me. I admit Oatmeal with blueberries or Yogurt, with blueberries, and granola give me lots of energy in the morning and I donít feel groggy. The foods that make me sleepy are Pasta and thick white bread (I can eat thin slices in a Sandwich and I am fine), with lots of cheesy sauce, also huge portions of meat. When I balance the portions out and add more veggies I donít feel that way. I donít think you need to eliminate meat or grains just portion them out right and pay attention to the grains you are using. As a person also trying to gain weight taking out carbs is dangerous! If you think grains and wheat is making you feel bad maybe you need to be tested for a gluten allergy. That could be what is really wrong not the fact we ďshouldnítĒ eat them.
    - 2/9/2013 8:54:47 AM
  • THIS ARTICLE WAS VERY HELPFUL. - 2/9/2013 8:33:22 AM
  • Interesting article. I've definitely noticed a correlation between my quality of sleep and my mood. - 7/29/2012 5:09:54 PM
  • Interesting - 2/24/2012 12:30:55 PM
  • No wheat !
    If one googles wheat allergies on the first list one can find that it can cause depression and lethargy. I have found this to be very true in my case. I do think the carb/sugar blood level evening could be advantages. Healthy (high quality) meat fat is good.
    I wonder if the correlation between hi sugar fruits and longer days has been explored. Especially by the pre history diet fans. It does make sense that elevated d vitamin to handle the sugar levels. I just try to have in season food. It's better for vitamin retrieval and less impact ecologically (transportation etc).
    I suggest trying a wheat free diet for a minimum of two week and see what your body and mind does. I no longer need allergy meds for hay fever and asthma this took a while of wheat free living. Wheat is in so many products beer included. Spelt is wheat. Anything gluten free is wheat free. Flour is wheat. Just to name a few that I have been asked about. There are many replacements now so you can have cookies and bread. I choose to rarely have them. - 2/24/2012 11:00:16 AM
  • I whole-heartedly (and NOT whole-wheatedly) agree that removing grains from the diet is a very positive health move for most people. They are largely empty calories and cause a wealth of metabolic and digestive problems for a large percentage of people. Much better to get your nutritional needs met by lower glycemic veggies, which are gut-friendly as well as waist-friendly.

    And take into consideration that much of the wheat supply is already made up of genetically modified product, which complicates the already complex issues. - 2/24/2012 10:20:32 AM
  • I have spent the last year in agony. I was tired, depressed, felt like I had weights on my legs and hands, tingling running up my spine and never slept more than two hours at a time. I finally told my doctor that V-D supplimentation was not working. He tested and found out I had severe allergies to wheat and dairy. I took those two things out of my diet and magically I dropped 30 pounds, But, the exhaustion and tingling had not gone away. So, to the endocrinologist I went. No B-12 in my body. Started the shots twice a month. I am sleeping and the tingling stopped. Depression went away. I do believe that a work up from a good doctor is the best medicine. Not every case is the same. I was ready to head to the psychiatrist and beg for anti-depressants. That would not have been the answer. Before heading that route, make sure that there is nothing physically wrong. - 2/24/2012 7:34:48 AM
  • I have to take exception to the advice about eating whole grains and wheat of any kind, which cause extreme blood sugar instability. There are many studies showing that roller-coaster blood sugars have a negative effect on mood and depression. Any kind of wheat will raise your blood sugar as much as eating straight, refined sugar. If you don't believe me, eat some and test it yourself. I cut out wheat and all other types of high glycemic index carbs, including oats, from my diet. I'm now free of blood sugar instability and the depression is also gone. - 2/24/2012 2:39:21 AM

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