• Maria Pfund, Nutritional Consultant

Beat Depression with Nutrition

Did you know that what you eat may contribute to how you feel? It does! Therefore, for mental problems/ emotional problems such as depression, nutrition may be a key to healing. Nutrition plays an important role in the onset, severity, and duration of depression, including the daily mood swings (Beardsley, n.d.). It is interesting that some food habits such as skipping meals, poor appetite, and desire for sweets, which lead to depression are also symptoms/ consequences of it. Another unhealthy habit includes the now-so-popular low-carbohydrate diets because the brain’s preferred fuel is carbohydrates; additionally, the “feel good” chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) are heightened by eating carbohydrate-rich foods. Anti-depressant drugs, such as Prozac also target serotonin production (Beardsley, n.d.).

The problem with sugar, simple carbohydrates (lacking fiber), and sugary foods, typically provide immediate, but temporary relief. Once the effect is gone, one depends on more to bring up mood and energy level. Complex carbohydrates (rich in fiber), such as whole grains, cereals, breads, pastas, and fruits & vegetables will likely to supply a moderate, but lasting effect on brain, improving mood, and energy level.

Depression is also linked to insufficient vitamins, especially the B vitamins, which are used in nervous system function. Although vitamin B6 deficiency is rare in United States, inadequate intake may bring up subtle changes in mood, before a deficiency develops because B6 also plays a role in the production of serotonin. Studies have shown that people who are depressed tend to have low levels of B6 and serotonin. Unfortunately, certain drugs, such as hormone replacement therapy, oral contraceptives, and anti-tuberculous medication can interfere with vitamin B6, causing a borderline deficiency.

Folic acid deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in United States and may cause personality changes and depression. Unfortunately, folate is easily destroyed by cooking, and is most abundant in leafy green vegetables (an under-consumed food group). Vitamin B12, at marginally low levels may contribute to depression and memory problems. As we age, vitamin B12 decreases absorption increasing the risk of deficiency. Additionally, minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc play a role in the prevention of depression, irritability, and mood swings.

Take-Home Message:

Food plays an essential role in maintaining mental health. Foods to avoid or eat in moderation include those that give energy crashes: sugar, simple carbs, and caffeine. It is important to eat a balanced diet, including plenty of leafy greens for folate, and bananas, avocado, greens, and whole grains for vitamin B6.


Beardsley, B. (n.d.). Depression and nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.healingwell.com/library/depression/beardsley1.aspx

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