Some popular, healthy foods offer more than just great taste. They may also help relieve symptoms of depression.

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Darren Muir/Stocksy United

If you’re looking to relieve your symptoms of depression, there’s an array of options you can turn to, including medications and various types of therapy. However, one important complementary therapy might be closer than you think — in the kitchen.

A growing body of evidence suggests that some foods and diets may help ease symptoms of depression.

Over the years, a number of studies have investigated the role food and diet play in mental health conditions, including depression.

No single ingredient or dish has emerged as a reliable treatment or “cure,” but overall nutritious diets appear to help with the condition, and some foods contain ingredients that have shown promise. Overall, research recommends consuming as many nutrient-packed foods as possible.

Alongside appropriate therapies and medication, this can help nourish your body and brain and may help relieve depression symptoms.

It’s important to note that research is still emerging on what foods and diets might help reduce depression.

So, if you want to develop a diet to help you fight depression, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. They can help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan and can recommend a diet that’s tailored for you.

There are a number ofproperties in many foods that scientists believe are beneficial when it comes to mental health and depression.

Foods to look for are those packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids. Between them, these nutrients can help reduce inflammation, maintain a healthy gut microbiome, regulate brain chemicals, and support brain function.

For example, studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is associated with decreased symptoms and progression of depression. This diet consists of plenty of whole foods, including:

  • fresh vegetables
  • legumes
  • whole grains
  • fish
  • eggs
  • healthy fats, especially olive oil

On the flip side, studies have found that the Western diet is linked to a heightened risk of depression. It typically includes foods such as:

  • takeout or fast food
  • red meat
  • high-sugar desserts and other refined carbs
  • processed foods

Here are a few nutrient-dense foods that could help relieve signs of depression, alongside other treatments for depression, such as therapy, medication, and other lifestyle changes.


Apples are a great source of pectin, a soluble fiber found in fruit and vegetables.

Studies have found that consuming high amounts of fiber is linked to a lower risk of depression symptoms.

Pectin may have additional benefits when it comes to gut bacteria. Pectin is also a prebiotic — a food that nourishes your gut bacteria.

Scientists have been discovering more about the close relationship between the gut and brain in recent years. Research has revealed a strong association between the gut microbiome and depression.

A study in mice found that those fed pectin showed fewer depression-related behaviors.

Other fruits that are rich in pectin include:

  • plums
  • gooseberries
  • blackcurrants
  • oranges

Apples also contain other nutrients that may help fight depression and bring other health benefits. They’re packed with manganese, which researchers have found is linked to a lower incidence of depression.

They also contain antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation, according to research. Increased levels of inflammation are linked to depression.


Experts say adults should consider getting about 25 to 34 grams of fiber a day, depending on their age and sex.

Bananas are a great snack when you need a quick pick-me-up. They offer about 3.1 grams of fiber per medium banana (118 grams), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Researchers found that women who ate two 130-gram servings of banana daily were less likely to report symptoms of depression.

Other fiber-packed fruits to consider include:

  • raspberries
  • mangoes
  • oranges
  • strawberries
  • kiwi fruit


Experts often say that eating fish — especially the oily varieties, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines — is great for your heart.

Still, it’s also important for much more. One analysis of 26 studies supports the theory that consuming fish may help reduce symptoms of depression.

It’s thought the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish play a key role in this.

Researchers debate just how much of an effect it can have, but some studies indicate this fatty acid could help reduce the risk of depression, potentially as a result of its anti-inflammatory properties.

As an added bonus, many fatty and oily fish varieties are good sources of vitamin D, which research suggests may also play a role in reducing depression.


The millennials are onto something with their love of avocado toast. Behind the skin of this fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) lies a plethora of vitamins and minerals that have been linked to easing symptoms of depression.

While bananas may be the best-known source of potassium, avocados actually offer a higher amount by weight, at 485 mg per 100 grams.

One study found that when adolescents consumed low levels of potassium and high levels of salt, they had a higher likelihood of having symptoms of depression. It’s important to note that this study was observational and didn’t separate the effects of potassium from those of salt.

Avocados are also rich in folate, which research indicates could aid in reducing symptoms of depression.

They also contain a good amount of vitamin K. One observational study found that older adults who consumed more vitamin K in their diets tended to have lower symptoms of depression.


They say good things come in small packages, and that’s definitely the case with walnuts.

They contain several nutrients that have been associated with a lower risk of depression, including:

  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • iron
  • copper
  • magnesium

One study found those who ate walnuts had lower depression scores compared with non-nut eaters. Another study revealed they may contribute to better overall cognitive function.

This type of nut also contains a huge amount of antioxidants — compounds that researchers state may play a significant role when it comes to preventing and treating depression.

These health benefits may apply to other nuts, too. Many other nut and seed varieties also contain nutrients such as fiber, omega-3, magnesium, and antioxidants. Great sources of these include:

In fact, an older study found that those who ate a Mediterranean diet that included nuts and seeds experienced lower rates of depression.


Vegetables are packed with a variety of vitamins and nutrients that your body relies on to thrive physically andmentally.

An analysis of 10 studies found that people who consumed more fruit and vegetables tended to have a lower risk of depression, and another 2018 study in Iranian adults supported this finding.

One 2017 study found that adults who ate a diverse array of vegetables for 3 months had reduced symptoms of depression than adults who ate a less diverse selection of vegetables.

So you may benefit more from eating several kinds rather than just a single favorite.

That said, if you want to start incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet, eating any type is a good start.

Here are some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables to consider.

Leafy greens

One study showed that consuming spinach extract lowered symptoms of depression in mice. Spinach is a great source of folate.

Meanwhile, kale is high in nutrients that may help decrease depression symptoms, including:

  • zinc
  • vitamin K
  • vitamin D


These contain plenty of carotenoids. Studies note there may be an association between low levels of this antioxidant and depression. They’re also high in beneficial vitamin K.


Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins, which people with depression are often low in, according to research.

They also contain selenium. Research suggests that consuming this nutrient may be associated with reduced symptoms of depression, though studies on this are limited.


Not just for Thanksgiving, turkey is a fantastic source of tryptophan.

This is an essential amino acid that research has long associated with mood. The body converts it into serotonin — the “happy” chemical that experts believe plays a role in the development of depression.

Studies from Japan and the United States found that people who consumed tryptophan in their diets had a reduced risk of experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Other foods are also good sources of tryptophan, such as:

  • chicken
  • eggs
  • tofu
  • pumpkin seeds

Fermented foods

Fermented or probiotic foods have surged in popularity, largely because their high probiotic content appears to have a positive influence on gut health.

Experts believe that because the gut and brain are so closely connected, fermented foods may also benefit people with depression.

Research, such as a 2016 European analysis of 38 studies and a 2017 Canadian analysis of 10 studies, supports the theory that probiotics may help reduce symptoms of depression. However, both studies note that more research is needed on this topic.

Meanwhile, another observational Korean study from 2019 found that consuming fermented dairy and vegetable products was associated with lower symptoms of depression in men.

An animal study found mice displayed fewer signs of mild depression after researchers gave them adzuki bean sprout fermented milk (made with dairy milk).

Want to add some fermented foods to your diet? Consider foods such as:

  • probiotic yogurt, which contains live cultures
  • miso
  • kefir
  • sauerkraut

Unrefined grains

Not all grain products are made equal: Some are refined, meaning they’ve had almost all their nutritional goodness stripped out of them. White rice and white flour are common examples.

Unrefined grains, also called whole grains, offer plenty of goodness instead. These typically contain nutrients such as iron, fiber, magnesium, and B vitamins, which may have a positive effect on depression.

Common examples of unrefined or whole grains include:

The Mediterranean diet is typically packed with whole grains, so following this diet is a great option.

On the other hand, eating more refined grains may be associated with negative outcomes. A 2017 study from Iran found that people who consumed more refined grains, rather than whole grains, were at an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Just as some ingredients are thought to help decrease depression symptoms, others may potentially play a role in making symptoms worse. Some of the biggest culprits include:

Sweet treats

They may taste good, but sugary snacks contribute to higher levels of inflammation, among other effects.

One study revealed that those who regularly consumed sugary foods had a 23% greater risk of developing a mental disorder, including depression.

Soft drinks

Sipping on sugar isn’t any better for your mental well-being.

One study on Chinese adolescents has shown that those who drank soft drinks daily had significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Certain high-fat foods

Some high-fat foods, but not others, may be linked to negative effects in the brain, and may potentially have an effect on depression symptoms.

Trans fats from fast foods and fried foods are one fat to avoid. They appear to contribute to heightened inflammation, which may increase depression symptoms, according to research.

Also, one study in mice suggests a diet high in saturated fats, including palmitic acid, may increase depression-related signals in the brain.

However, it’s important to note that this was just a single study, and it was in mice, not humans. Much more research on the health effects of different types of fats on depression in people is needed.

It’s also important to note that some whole foods that are high in fat can be very good for the brain, and may help with depression. We’ve already mentioned some healthy high-fat foods above. They include:

  • fatty fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids
  • olive oil, a key part of the Mediterranean diet
  • avocado
  • nuts

Consider replacing trans fats and other less healthy fats in your diet with these and other healthy high-fat foods.

Processed meat

Many of us look forward to barbecue season, but some grilling favorites, like sausages and cured meats, may not be so hot for your mental health.

A European study discovered a connection between processed meat consumption and depression.

A separate analysis of eight studies also indicated a potential association between eating meat and depression. However, the researchers noted the results were inconclusive and more studies were needed.

Diet is not a replacement for traditional depression treatments, such as therapy and medication. Still, research indicates that it could be a complementary tool to use alongside those treatments.

Consider discussing your needs with a doctor before you make any big dietary changes, especially if you’re taking medication.

If you’d like to try improving your mental health with your diet, consider incorporating fresh and unprocessed foods into your meals wherever you can. These tend to be the most nutrient-packed. Variety is key.

If you’re living with depression, there is hope. Healthcare professionals can help you find the right treatments, including holistic treatments like dietary changes.

This article provides more in-depth information about treatments for depression.