12 dietary habits that fight depression 

Including certain foods in your diet and avoiding others can work wonders for mental health


One in four people the world over are afflicted with depression. To combat this ailment, that decreases productivity and quality of life, one drug-free therapy is food. There is scientific evidence of a clear link between food and mental health. Not only does diet affect mood in the short-term, consuming certain foods can create lasting, fundamental changes in the way we feel.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that high intakes of fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains are associated with a reduced risk of depression. On the other hand, those who consume unhealthy foods such as chips, chocolate, ready-to-eat meals and takeaways report more mental health problems. Here are 12 ways to alleviate depression by adopting certain dietary habits.

Don’t skip breakfast: Skipping breakfast raises the risk of depression by up to 43% according to a new South Korean study. The researchers believe the body reacts to a lack of food by releasing the stress hormones adrenalin – linked to irritation and anxiety – and cortisol, which inhibits the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.

Get enough protein: The neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are both made up of amino acids, in other words, proteins. If the diet is lacking in these specific amino acids, the production of these neurotransmitters will be compromised causing depression. Ensure adequate protein intake from meat, chicken, fish, quinoa, eggs, tofu, milk, cheese, beans and pulses. 

B vitamins are your friend: B vitamins play a key role in the conversion of amino acids into neurotransmitters. Consume foods rich in B vitamins like whole grains, spinach, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, salmon, tofu, eggs and nuts. 

Treat your gut well: Digestive health is crucial to mood and if your gut is not in optimal health, digestion and absorption of nutrients will not be efficient. Most serotonin is made in the gut, not the brain. Poor gastrointestinal health could prevent production of serotonin. 

Avoid the sweet stuff: Avoiding refined sugars will contribute to a better mood. These sugars are quickly absorbed into the blood, providing a surge of energy followed by a dip that will leave you feeling tired, lethargic and jittery. Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates present in whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.


Keep your hormones in check: Hormonal imbalance can cause depression especially during menopause. Eating certain foods called ‘phytoestrogens’, like vegetables, beans and pulses, helps balance the estrogen levels.

Get enough vitamin D: A 2010 study found that the likelihood of having depression is higher in people with low levels of vitamin D. Good sources of vitamin D are fish, tofu and milk.

Select selenium-rich foods: Studies have reported a link between low selenium and poor moods. Consume food rich in selenium such as beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

Include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet: Scientists have found that not eating enough omega-3s may be linked to depression. Good sources of omega-3s are fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna, flaxseed, soybean oils, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables.

Cut back on caffeine: A direct link between caffeine and depression is a matter of debate. However, excessive consumption of caffeine can cause irritability, anxiety and insomnia. Lack of sleep can cause depression, and anxiety and depression often go hand in hand.

Avoid alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant and regular drinking lowers levels of serotonin. In addition, regularly drinking heavily may affect your relationship with your partner, family and friends, or impact your performance at work, making life feel difficult and depressing.

Stay away from processed food: Processed food contains trans fats, artificial colours, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners, and other synthetic ingredients linked to irritability and poor mood.

Finally, make gradual food changes. Slow and healthy changes in your diet will allow your brain chemicals time to mould to your new eating style.




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