Defeat Depression With A Healthy Diet


Research over the past ten years suggests that you can prevent depression with a healthy diet.

Some studies suggest a healthy diet, like a Mediterranean-style eating plan, can even treat depression once it’s been diagnosed.

Improving Brain Health Through Diet

At the root of depression is an unhealthy brain. Improving your diet can increase brain health by providing it with the nutrients it needs to thrive.

To receive mood-boosting effects from your diet, emphasize these “mood foods”:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Yogurt and cheeses
  • Legumes and nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Seafood
  • Lean red meats in small servings

Research Shows Link Between Mood and Diet

An Australian study that included 67 people with depression confirmed the mood-boosting effects of diet. Through the study, half of the people were counseled in nutrition by a dietitian. The remaining half were given one-on-one support in the form of someone to talk or play games with.

After 12 weeks, the people who most improved their diets also had the greatest improvements in mood. In addition, those who received diet-focused support showed a much-improved mood over those who received the social support.

Some Foods are Natural Mood Lifters

Nutrient-poor foods such as processed foods or those high in trans fats may promote inflammation, which causes depression or makes it worse. A bad diet also affects the gut bacteria involved in the production of brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.

These nutrients are particularly helpful to feeding the brain, supporting good gut bacteria and regulating inflammation:

Vitamin B6

The brain needs vitamin B6 to produce serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for mood and sleep. Serotonin-producing foods include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Spinach
  • Avocados
  • Whole grains


The primary omega-3 fat found in the brain, DHA protects existing brain cells and promotes the creation of new cells. Find it in foods such as:

  • Salmon
  • Oysters
  • Mussels

Prebiotics and probiotics

Foods that support the good bacteria and microbes in the gut have the potential to change mood for the better. Find prebiotics and probiotics in:

  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Oats
  • Yogurt
  • Fermented food and drink

A Brain-Friendly Diet Can Prevent Other Diseases

If you’re at risk for depression or are experiencing mood concerns, emphasizing the best nutrition for brain health makes good sense because you:

  • May be able to limit or avoid antidepressant medications (and their side effects)
  • Can improve your general health while preventing heart disease, obesity and diabetes

If you’re concerned you might be depressed, take our depression quiz. If you need help or want to learn more about UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences call the ACCESS center at 310-825-9989.