Imagine if there were foods that could make you feel good; foods that could help to prevent depression and reduce the symptoms of depression.
Imagine if you could craft your meals by combining a bit of this for protein, a dash of that for antioxidants and colour, some herbs and spices for flavour, and a good dollop of key researched ingredients to support your mind.
Guess what? Good news. These mood foods do exist.
The research behind antidepressant mood foods
A 2018 systematic literature review was conducted to determine which foods are the best foods to prevent depression and help with the recovery from depression.1
By methodically screening the literature for highly researched, clinically trialled anti-depressant nutrients, then determining which foods contain the highest quantities of these nutrients, a list of the top beneficial mood foods was assembled.
The authors, both leaders in the field of psychiatry and mental health, included key antidepressant foods from both plant and animal sources along with dietary recommendations to help practitioners develop optimal patient treatment plans.
Some of these nutrients, such as magnesium and zinc, have previously been discussed in the Supporting Mind and Body: Depression series and the Nutrients series, which unpacks the hows and whys of the therapeutic activity.
But for now, let’s have a look at the nutrients included in this latest study.
The results from the study identified twelve antidepressant nutrients that are backed by quality clinical trials to support mental health. The nutrients found to be most effective (in no particular order) were folate, iron, long chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, and zinc.
Which foods are good for improving mood?
Based off the study criteria, the authors screened hundreds of foods and compiled a list of the top twenty plant and animal whole food sources of each of the antidepressant nutrients. They then categorised the foods into food groups for ease of determining which food groups to eat most often to support your mental health.
Interestingly, the authors reported that many of the foods included in the list are not regularly consumed as part of a western diet. This can make it hard to interpret or action, if like me, you don’t use or know how to use many of these foods in your meals (like pummelo or kohlrabi, for example).
Key nutrients in each of these mood foods
By going through the USDA National Nutrient Database and individually searching each of the mood foods for their nutritional composition, I was hoping to find some clear distinct trends.
The truth is though, there were no clear standout answers regarding the main nutrients that were contained in these foods. Somewhat disappointing for those of us who want something quick and definite.
Key nutrients from animal sources
It was interesting to see, however, that in the antidepressant animal foods, a significant portion of the list was made up of seafood.
These foods are commonly high in zinc and often contain good quantities of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They also typically contain a reasonable amount of iron, selenium and vitamin B12.
I suspect it is a combination of these nutrients and the relatively low saturated fats (in comparison to other animal meats) that makes these foods so effective.
Additionally, when thinking about the types of meals that are generally prepared with these foods, they are often less processed and more wholesome meals, paired with salads, vegetables and smaller servings or portion sizes.
Key nutrients from plantbased sources
When screening the antidepressant plant foods, the real standouts appeared to be high magnesium, folate, Vitamin C and Vitamin A.
Again, the take home message with regards to plantbased foods seems to be that a high quality, low processed diet is key so you’re not losing most of the nutrients before the food arrives on your plate.
Additionally, with a lot of the plantbased foods, they provide good levels of prebiotics and fibre to support the health of your microbiota.
There is a wealth of science exploring the gut-brain axis at the moment that really links the positive attributes between foods high in prebiotics, polyphenols and fibre and their effects on gut health.2
Foods that support the healthy bacteria in your gut and therefore the proper equilibrium of your microbiome, ultimately contribute not only to the health of your digestive system, but also the health of your mind.3
Mood food medicine and the take home message
The real take home message for me from this study was the reiteration that food is medicine. We all know that a healthy diet leads to a healthy body, but less considered and equally important is that a healthy diet also leads to a healthy mind.
If you’re struggling with low mood or depression (or want to prevent the reoccurrence of depression), take note of the above foods, food groups and key nutrients that have been demonstrated to be effective.
By far the best approach is to include non-processed foods from a wide variety of different food groups that contain a multitude of different colours.
When I prepare a meal, I’m really breaking down what nutrients are contained in the ingredients. By understanding the key constituents that comprise particular foods, we can intentionally include ingredients into our meals that contain the key food categories, the clinically researched nutrients and ultimately, help us to live a healthier and happier life.
Any thoughts on this? Please leave your comments below. Know someone who’d be interested in or benefit from this information? Please forward this article on to them.
References and further resources
- LaChance LR, Ramsey D. Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression. World J Psychiatry. 2018;8(3):97-104. doi:10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.97.
- Filosa S, Di Meo F, Crispi S. Polyphenols-gut microbiota interplay and brain neuromodulation. Neural Regen Res. 2018;13(12):2055-2059. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.241429.
- Liang S, Wu X, Jin F. Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis. Front Integr Neurosci. 2018;12(September):1-24. doi:10.3389/fnint.2018.00033.