Food For Depression: How Your Eating Impacts Your Mood

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 12/29/2020

You love pasta and those warm breadsticks served on the side, and of course, you like to wash it all down with a glass of soda, but you don't always like the feeling that comes after that delicious meal. Pasta, breadsticks, and soda may seem like harmless foods, but they can also be food that increases your chances of experiencing depression.

Woman Sitting on Chair While Eating Pasta Dish

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It may be surprising that what we eat contributes to our mental health. Some studies show there is a link between what we eat and depression. Therefore, changing your diet may be part of your treatment for a healthier mind.

Suppose you're finding that you’re suffering from anger, sadness, a decreased or increased appetite, or sleeplessness. You may be suffering from depression. If you believe that depression is something you're struggling with, or you wonder if it is, you can take this depression quiz to see if you're at risk.

7 Foods That May Cause Depression

Since eating the wrong kind of food can affect our mental health, understanding what food needs to be eliminated from our diet is important. Following is a list of foods that could be possible causes of your depression.

  1. Alcohol

It seems like a glass of wine would be a good way to lighten our mood; however, studies show that overuse of alcohol can lead to depression. In addition, depression can lead to alcohol addiction. The two together can become a dangerous cycle.

  1. Sugar

Reaching for comfort foods that are high in sugar will only bring a temporary good feeling. However, studies show that after the initial spike; the sugar can cause an imbalance in certain brain chemicals, leading to depression.

  1. Gluten

Though many people can eat gluten with no adverse reactions, it can cause side effects, including depression in some people. You may need to see your health care provider rule out a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity.

  1. Processed Oils

Though the use of processed oils may not cause depression, they may impair brain function and exacerbate the symptoms of depression. Therefore, they are to be considered as food for depression.

  1. Caffeine

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, energy drink, sodas, and chocolate. Though small amounts of coffee can benefit people with depression, excessive amounts can set off stress, anxiety, and depression. It's important to consume it in moderation.

  1. Refined Food

Refined carbs give our bodies a quick boost of energy, followed by a fast depletion of it. This can cause mood swings, which leads to depression.

  1. Processed Meats

Meat that has been processed usually has been mixed with additives. It is not as nutritional as unprocessed meats. The lack of nutrients can be a cause for symptoms of depression.

Fast Food Served on Table

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What Our Bodies Need

Now that you have a beginning understanding of the connection between food and depression, it's time to learn what our bodies need and the food that helps battle depression.

It may seem like an immense task when thinking about food and depression since feeling depressed can often lead you to eat those same foods you need to eliminate from your diet. Nevertheless, changing your diet to foods that help with depression can be a start to healing. So what is the food that helps battle depression?

  1. Good Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are different from the simple ones found in sugar because our bodies convert them more slowly than simple carbs. This provides a steadier flow of energy to our brains. So, including fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and legumes in our diet is one way to lower the symptoms of depression.

  1. Water

We may not think of water as a "food"; however, it makes up most of our brain, so even when we are a little dehydrated, we can suffer from irritability. So, before grabbing that cup of caffeine when you're feeling moody, reach for a glass of water instead.

  1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D can easily be absorbed through your skin from the sun. But due to skin cancer and climates that are more cloudy than full of sunshine, you can thankfully find vitamin D in foods, such as oily fish, eggs, fortified dairy products, and beef liver.

  1. Protein

Remember that sleepy feeling you get after eating turkey on Thanksgiving? That may be a result of tryptophan, which is a protein used to create serotonin. Tryptophan is found in tuna, turkey, and chickpeas. When we eat them, it elevates the serotonin levels and therefore helps with depression.

  1. Beneficial Vitamins

Vitamins B-12 and B-9 are beneficial in decreasing the symptoms of depression.
Good sources of B-12 and B-9 are eggs, meat, milk, poultry, fish, and some fortified cereals. Dark leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains also contain folate.

  1. Zinc

Zinc levels may be lower in people with depression. The foods where zinc can be found include whole grains, oysters, beef, chicken, pork, and beans.

Roasted Chicken on White Ceramic Plate

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How To Use Food To Fight Depression

It may seem like an immense task when thinking about food and depression since feeling depressed can often lead you to choose foods that are "emotionally" comforting instead of what your body needs. Nevertheless, changing your diet to foods that help with depression can be a start to healing.

The Ketogenic Diet And Depression

The Positive Of A Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is a low-carb, high-fat diet that offers many health benefits, including treating depression. It tends to have a positive effect on our brains and nervous system.

Here are some ways the Keto diet can help with depression.

  • Increases GAMA: Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) helps in managing stress, anxiety, and mood. Low GABA levels have been linked to depression.
  • May decrease oxidative stress: When we eat a ketogenic diet, we help decrease oxidative stress by including fruits and vegetables that are known antioxidants while eliminating those trigger foods that are believed to cause depression.
  • May help regulates insulin function: A diet high in sugar and refined starches can cause insulin resistance to develop, which is linked to depression. Therefore a ketogenic diet is favorable when keeping our insulin levels balanced.

Can A Ketogenic Diet Elevate Depression?

After eating a diet of foods that cause depression, you may find a ketogenic diet restrictive. This may cause you to feel more depressed. Knowing what to expect will prepare you for the temporary discomfort to help achieve the results you're working for.

Slice of Eggs on Cakes

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Keto Flu

As your body begins to adjust to the food changes, it will enter ketosis, otherwise known in the Ketogenic Diet as keto flu. Though it isn't the flu, some symptoms may be similar and can involve headaches, disruption in sleep patterns, cramping, and fatigue. Symptoms can be eased by increasing fluids and electrolyte intake.

Excessive Restrictions

When you change to a ketogenic diet, it may cause a feeling of depression, as you refrain from eating those foods that have brought comfort in the past. Learning to replace those foods with new comfort foods will help. You can also learn to replace food comfort with comfort from other things such as taking a walk or spending time talking with a friend.

Mineral Deficiency

Any dietary change, including a ketogenic diet, can bring about a deficiency in vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, magnesium, and selenium, which can, in turn, cause depression. Seek advice from your physician to answer any questions concerning this.

Socially Isolating

Gathering to share meals is what we do, and when we change our diets, it may cause us to want to stay away from social events. However, isolation can cause more symptoms of depression, so finding ways to enjoy meals with other people will take preparation on your part.

If the keto diet isn't for you, there is another anti-depression diet you may want to try.

Anti-Depression Diet

An anti-depression diet provides food to relieve the symptoms of depression more than a Diet for weight loss. It focuses on eliminating the foods known to cause depression and replacing them with healthy, mood-supporting food, and when needed, supplements.

Foods To Eat

  • Chicken, turkey, fish, seafood
  • Eggs
  • Fresh milk and fermented dairy products,
  • Cheese
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Chickpeas
  • Whole grains, nuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms

Foods To Avoid

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Refined sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • All processed food
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Fast food

Supplements To Support The Anti Depression Diet

  • Vitamin E
  • B vitamins
  • folic acid
  • selenium
  • tryptophan

Other Diet Plans To Help With Depression

Grilled Meat on White Ceramic Plate

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Here are a few of the other eating plans that may be able to help ease your symptoms of depression and tips on how to make them work for you:

Mediterranean Diet

  • Get your starch fix with whole grains and legumes.
  • Fill up on plenty of fruits and veggies.
  • Focus on eating fatty fish, like salmon or albacore tuna, in place of red meat.
  • Add in healthy fats, like raw nuts and olive oil.
  • Enjoy sweets and wine in moderation.

DASH Diet

  • Embrace whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.
  • Get protein from chicken, fish, and nuts.
  • Switch to low-fat or nonfat dairy.
  • Limit sweets, sugary drinks, saturated fats, and alcohol.

What If You Still Struggle After You Have Made Diet Changes?

Occasional feelings of depression can be a normal part of life. However, if you find you're still struggling with food-related depression after you've made the necessary changes, it may be time to seek the help of a professional.