Positive changes to a diet can include consuming more foods with high nutrient counts, such as fruit and vegetables, fish, and whole grains. A study of over 10,000 Spanish students found that the Mediterranean diet (which includes vegetables, fruit and nuts, cereal, legumes, and fish) may reduce risk of depression. The Mediterranean diet may also help fight off various brain diseases. The findings were corroborated by similar studies on diets in Japan, Norway and China.
“We stay away from thinking about food in terms of calories. We focus on helping people add into their diet, rather than take away,” Elkrief says.
BUILD YOUR OWN ANTIDEPRESSANT DIET
“When we talk about foods for mood, we generally look at food categories and tell people to choose from within them,” Elkrief says. “You don’t have to eat kale or watercress.”
But there are ways to narrow down your foodie list a little.
They identified 12 antidepressant nutrients among 34 essential nutrients, including iron, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamins A, B, C, and zinc.
“These are nutrients that allow our brain to grow,” Elkrief says. “A lot of people were taught that our brain stops growing in our early 20s. But we do have the ability to change the way our brain is working.”
Foods with the highest levels of these nutrients scored highest on the antidepressant food score.
Below is a list of the top 44, according to whether they are plant-based or animal-based, with the percentage of Antidepressant Nutrient content per 100 g serving.
ANTIDEPRESSANT ANIMAL FOODS
- Oyster: 56 percent
- Liver and organ meats (spleen, kidneys, or heart): 18-38 percent
- Poultry giblets: 31 percent
- Clam: 30 percent
- Mussels: 28 percent
- Octopus: 27 percent
- Crab: 24 percent
- Goat: 23 percent
- Tuna: 15-21 percent
- Smelt: 20 percent
- Fish roe: 19 percent
- Bluefish: 19 percent
- Wolffish: 19 percent
- Pollock: 18 percent
- Lobster: 17 percent
- Rainbow trout: 16-17 percent
- Snail or whelk: 16 percent
- Spot fish: 16 percent
- Salmon: 10-16 percent
- Herring: 16 percent
- Emu: 16 percent
- Snapper: 16 percent
ANTIDEPRESSANT PLANT FOODS
- Watercress: 127 percent
- Spinach: 97 percent
- Mustard, turnip, or beet greens: 76-93 percent
- Lettuces (red, green, romaine): 74-99 percent
- Swiss chard: 90 percent
- Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, or parsley): 73-75 percent
- Chicory greens: 74 percent
- Pummelo: 69 percent
- Peppers (bell, serrano, or jalapeno): 39-56 percent
- Kale or collards: 48-62 percent
- Pumpkin: 46 percent
- Dandelion greens: 43 percent
- Cauliflower: 41-42 percent
- Kohlrabi: 41 percent
- Red cabbage: 41 percent
- Broccoli: 41 percent
- Brussels sprouts: 35 percent
- Acerola: 34 percent
- Butternut squash: 34 percent
- Papaya: 31 percent
- Lemon: 31 percent
- Strawberry: 31 percent
PROBIOTICS, PREBIOTICS AND DEPRESSION
These nutrient-filled foods may also positively affect the flora in the gut, known as the microbiome. The evidence is growing that it is at least playing some role in one’s quality of life, mood, cognition, and, perhaps, depression.
Recent research suggests probiotics, which can boost gut bacteria health, may also alleviate depressive symptoms. A review published in the Annals of General Psychiatry in 2017 identified ten studies suggesting that daily intake of probiotics improves mood, anxiety, and cognitive symptoms.
“EVERYONE, EVERY MEDICAL PROVIDER, SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT FOOD.”
Probiotic foods include fermented vegetables (think pickles, kimchi, and kombucha) to promote these bacteria to your gut.
Prebiotic foods, foods that contain elements that help foster probiotic bacteria, may also help. Onions, asparagus, and leeks all fit the bill
But more research is needed before jumping to strong conclusions about diet and depression. Scientists don’t know, for example, why specific foods are linked to certain mental health conditions, and not others, or what drives the link.
“There are people that are a little bit hesitant, or aren’t interested,” Elkrief says. “It’s new, it’s not what they’ve been doing for the past 30 years, but we do have good science.”
Ultimately, the evidence suggests that changing up what you eat may be just as good for your brain as your body.
Author: Sofia Quaglia