4 Foods that help with depression

In 431 B.C., Hippocrates, the father of medicine,  said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”  If only he knew how true that would be in 2013.  Many people find benefit and help from what Westerners consider ‘traditional’ medicine, but often fail to recognize the power of food and Hippocrates’ philosophy has been all but forgotten.   Maybe we could paraphrase him and the power of food: Garbage in, garbage out.  

In the spirit of Hippocrates, let’s explore some foods that help with depression

Depression has become a huge problem in our culture.  In fact, according to the CDC, an estimated 1 in 10 U.S. adults report depression.  We can reverse this trend!  We all know that food has a major effect on the mind–just think “comfort food”.    Many of the symptoms of depression can be directly linked to vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the standard American diet, which is largely comprised of empty carbs, caffeine and sugar. Depression, mood swings and fatigue often have a common cause: poor nutrition. Avoiding depression or recovering from a depressive episode is often as easy as changing your diet and boosting your consumption of key foods that help with depression by delivering  brain-boosting nutrients and help regulate brain chemistry. Let’s look at some foods, that if consumed regularly and in their whole state, can help combat and prevent depression. 

Foods that help with depression are those high in B Vitamins

B vitamins play a major role is controlling mood. Vitamin B6, B9 (Folate), and B12 deficiencies have been linked to symptoms of depression, so getting enough of these vitamins may be a good place to start.  B6  is a key enzyme in the manufacturing of serotonin(regulates mood)  and norepinephrine (a stress hormone).   Both B12 and B9 (folate) are  important as they are needed for the manufacture of  SAMe, a chemical that the body uses to increase serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that  play a role in depression.

Sources of B Vitamins:  Good sources for B vitamins include kombucha, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, tempeh, beans, nutritional yeast,  brewer’s yeast, and molasses. However, while yeast used in beer making is high in B vitamins, the bioavailability ranges from poor to negative because  drinking ethanol inhibits absorption. Brewer’s Yeast contains vitamins B1, B2 and B3.  Brewer’s yeast should be avoided if you do not tolerate yeast well, but if you do, mix a thimbleful into any smoothie for your daily dose. This superfood packs a wide assortment of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Amino acids are vital for the nervous system, which makes brewer’s yeast a no-brainer for treating depression.

Whole Grain Foods help with depression 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.netI’m wondering if increased depression in our society comes as a side effect of the ever-popular low carb diets.  Not only will the added carbohydrates of whole grain foods ensure you are not deficient (experts suggest at least 45-60 percent of your calories via macronutrients to come from carbohydrates), but the added fiber in your diet will help you get the most from your food. These foods are packed with nutritional value, including healthy sources of vitamins and amino acids. Make it a note to eat more complex carbohydrates!  These are known to raise the body’s levels of tryptophan, which is the amino acid that helps make serotonin. 

Whole grain foods: The ancient grains of quinoa, millet, teff, amaranth, spelt, barley are excellent because they are less likely to be man-modified or processed.  Also brown rice, whole grain wheat and oat. Brown rice contains vitamins B1 and B3, and folic acid. It is a low-glycemic food, which means it releases glucose into the bloodstream gradually, preventing sugar lows and mood swings. Brown rice  provides many of the trace minerals we need to function properly, as well as being a high-fiber food that can keep the digestive system healthy and lower cholesterol. Instant varieties of rice do not offer these benefits. Any time you see “instant” on a food label, avoid it.  Whole-grain oats contain folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamins B6 and B1. Oats help lower cholesterol, are soothing to the digestive tract and help avoid the blood sugar crash-and-burn that can lead to crabbiness and mood swings.

Why do we want to increase serotonin?  Because it’s known as the “feel good” brain chemical!


It’s been discovered that omegas may be a ticket to better mental health. Studies show that taking omega supplements in addition to antidepressants yielded far better results. It hasn’t been determined, though, whether or not taking omegas alone will have any effect on depression or bipolar disorders. However, participants in a 2002 study featured in the Archives of General Psychiatry took just a gram of fish oil each day and noticed a 50-percent decrease in symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disorders, unexplained feelings of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and decreased sex drive.

To increase your intake of omegas, go for salmon, flax seed, walnuts and chia seeds.  Eating more of these foods will certainly help your overall health, too.  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. 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. 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 three areas of the brain associated with mood. People with severe depression have less gray matter in these areas.


Magnesium, a mineral found naturally in nuts and seeds, influences production of serotonin, a “feel-good” brain chemical. Magnesium also affects overall energy production.  Whole Dark Leafy Greens, Vegetables, Fruits, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, peanuts, whole grains.  Eating plenty of dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits is a great way to get a holistic source of nutrition, including many of the vitamins and minerals  already discussed. What this suggestion really speaks to is increasing the amount of whole foods you eat (organic, fresh) and less processed foods with little nutritional value. 

 Non-food things to do:

Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.netGet plenty of sunshine. Natural sunlight is a proven cure for depression. Exposure to bright light is a second possible approach to increasing serotonin without drugs. Bright light is, of course, a standard treatment for seasonal depression, but a few studies also suggest that it is an effective treatment for nonseasonal depression and also reduces depressed mood in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder and in pregnant women suffering from depression.

Engage in regular exercise at least three times per week. Exercise lifts and mood and alters brain chemistry in a positive way.

Experience laughter. It’s good medicine.

As you can see, there are treatment options that can relieve depression without taking pills.

Hippocrates was really onto something when he said food was medicine. A simple, true principal!

I’d love to hear from you.  What is your experience with depression and managing it? Leave a  comment, or email me!

PennySue Mueller


Penny Mueller
Email: Penny Mueller





  1. Hi Penny,
    I’m really liking what I see on your website. Articles have great content that apply to the lifestyle I am living. I had a flashback when I read your home page – to playing Oregon Trail (a computer game) with my son and learning about the natural remedies they used as they crossed the country by wagon. I use some of these same remedies today. I’ll be coming back to read often.
    Enjoy the Journey,

  2. Penny,

    Great article – we all need to be more educated about how we can heal and prevent these types of issues naturally. I also love adding epsom salts to my bath for a Magnesium boost.

  3. Hi Penny,

    Thank you for this very informative article.

    Low seratonin levels is a mental health issue for several of my family members. It’s good to know that simply by adding certain foods to your diet, your mood can be lifted.

    Thanks for sharing such simple and practical tips.


  4. Hi Penny,
    Thank you giving so much information ,l prefer using natural methods and 4 methods of reducing stress was a winner.
    As you had said earlier we have much in common.You have really taken off,keep it up.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Winnie. Yes, it’s always be to stick as close to nature as possible. I realize that’s not always possible, but it’s worth trying!

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