The most important foods to help fight depression

Researchers have ranked foods rich in nutrients that help relieve symptoms of depression

Glimpse of the story

  • A total of 34 nutrients known to be essential for humans were analyzed to find those that are most beneficial for fighting depression. The researchers narrowed it down to 12 with most likely to combat depression and compiled a list of antidepressant foods (AFS) scores.
  • Watercress tops the entire list of antidepressant foods with 127 percent, while the highest animal food is oysters at 56 percent.
  • Among people aged 15-44, mental conditions, including depression, are the leading cause of disability worldwide, so looking at food as a treatment option is critical.

While there are hundreds of articles, nutritional strategies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations that aim to provide information on how to fight disease and improve your health, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that focus on diet, brain health, or mental disorders prior to 2007.

Given how much we’ve learned about diet’s impact on mental health, this lack of insight is surprising.

In September 2018, The researchers conducted a systematic review Take a look at the available research on nutrient-dense foods to find the best foods to eat to help fight depression.

The initiative was addressed by Dr. Laura R. LaChance and a team from the University of Toronto and Drew Ramsey from the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Specifically, the study sought to elicit a list of antidepressant nutrients.

Nutritional data for a subset of foods high in at least one antidepressant nutrient was extracted using the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] Database. These foods were analyzed for antidepressant nutrient density resulting in an Antidepressant Food Score (AFS), they wrote.

Watercress tops the list of AFS-based antidepressant foods, and it’s the plant-based food with the highest score of 127 percent. The top animal food is oysters, at 56 percent. The researchers also averaged scores for the food categories to create a statistical average for each food type.

Food Categories and Average Antidepressant Food Score

food class Average Antidepressant Food Score (AFS)
vegetables 48 percent
meat 25 percent
the fruit 20 percent
Seafood 16 percent
legumes 8 percent
meat 8 percent
legumes 5 percent
Nuts and seeds 5 percent
dairy 3 percent

The researchers were motivated by the prevalence of depressive disorders, as well as the cost and often inadequate management of such conditions. Their study confirmed that all of the best foods can be incorporated into any type of eating plan.

Not all of the foods in the study are necessarily familiar to everyone around the world. People in the United States, for example, do not often eat bivalve foods (foods from marine organisms such as oysters that have divided shells).

Even when such foods are readily available, some people rarely eat them – even if they know they should. In fact, most of the adult population in the United States fails to meet the daily recommendations for vegetable intake. The 2010 Healthy People Initiative, designed to increase vegetable consumption and other healthy habits, revealed that only 27.2 percent of Americans eat three or more servings of vegetables per day.

What are the best nutrients that fight depression?

The scientists concluded that future researchers should consider the best antidepressant nutrients when designing intervention studies. Doctors should also develop a diet to help prevent depression. Researchers listed 12 antidepressant nutrients that they deemed best for depressive disorders:

  • Folic acid
  • iron
  • Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • selenium
  • thiamine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • zinc

The prevalence of mental illness and a “recipe” for hope

The Lachance and Ramsey study indicated that, among people aged 15 to 44, mental conditions, including depression, are the leading cause of disability worldwide. The creation of new treatment options, including antidepressant foods, should be imperative to deal with the growing number of people with such issues, they said.

They recommended avoiding processed foods, such as those high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, and following a traditional diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.

Furthermore, an international consortium of mental health and nutrition researchers recently recommended that “nutritional psychiatry” become a “routine part of mental health clinical practice,” the researchers noted.

The basis of their research focused, in part, on a meta-analysis that involved scientists from Australia, Spain, Finland, the United Kingdom and France. Its goal was to address such disorders through dietary recommendations. This was also the goal of a randomized controlled trial from 2017, dubbed “SMILES” (Lifestyle Modification Support in Low Affective States).

SMILES has been involved in the collaborative efforts of multiple experts from centers in neuroscience, psychiatry, nutrition, medical and other research centers across Australia. It concluded with the hypothesis that “improving diet may provide an effective and accessible treatment strategy for the management of this highly prevalent mental disorder.”

He also noted that addressing the association between what a person eats and what they don’t eat is very likely to influence the number of related deaths.

LaChance and Ramsey support the idea that nutritional psychiatry should be a routine part of the clinical treatment of clinical mental health practice, a conclusion advocated in a previous review published in Lancet Psychiatry 2015.

“Evidence regarding nutrition as a critical factor in the widespread prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important for psychiatry as it is for cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology,” researchers report in the Study Nutrition Medicine as Prevalent in Psychiatry. “

“Evidence is steadily growing for the relationship between diet quality (and potential nutritional deficiencies) and mental health, and for the use of dietary supplements selected to address deficiencies, or as monotherapy or augmentation therapies.”

Plant-based foods with the highest scores for mental health

One important observation that LaChance and Ramsey made during their study was that deficiencies in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and vitamin D are undoubtedly implicated in the “pathophysiology” of depression.

More specifically, the effect of foods on inflammation and the effect of dietary fiber on gut bacteria are two important factors when looking at the best foods to eat for mental health.

The highest scores for plant foods for depression are:

  • Leafy greens – watercress, spinach, mustard greens, kale, dandelion and beet greens, Swiss chard, dandelion, collard greens, cilantro, basil, parsley and turnip greens.
  • Lettuce – red, green and turkey lettuce.
  • Pepper – bell, serrano and jalapeno.
  • Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, red cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
    Antidepressant plant foods Food grade antidepressant (AFS domain)
    watercress 127 percent
    spinach 97 percent
    Mustard, turnip or beets 76 percent – 93 percent
    Lettuce (red, green, romaine) 74 percent – 99 percent
    Swiss chard 90 percent
    Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, or parsley) 73 percent – 75 percent
    green dandelion 74 percent
    pomelo 69 percent
    Pepper (bell, serrano, or jalapeno) 39 percent – 56 percent
    Kale or Collards 48 percent – 62 percent
    Pumpkin 46 percent
    green dandelion 43 percent
    cauliflower 41 percent – 42 percent
    kohlrabi 41 percent
    red cabbage 41 percent
    Broccoli 41 percent
    Football 35 percent
    Acerola 34 percent
    butternut squash 34 percent
    papaya 31 percent
    Lemon 31 percent
    the strawberry 31 percent

Vegetables are highly nutritious, often containing an astonishing array of phytonutrients that can’t be obtained from anything else, but there are downsides to modern food production.

Case in point: Despite being described as a possible carcinogen, glyphosate, one of the most common and problematic herbicides, continues to be used on crops, poisoning many of your foods. Birth defects, infertility, neurological disorders, endocrine disorder and cancer have been listed as potential exposure risks, according to multiple studies.

Many crops are genetically engineered to be able to tolerate more glyphosate. These “RoundUp Ready” varieties have become popular because an estimated 60 million acres of farmland have now been overrun with super glyphosate-resistant weeds, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Animal foods have the highest mental health score

With regard to eating foods to compensate for depression, the focus has shifted from studying individual nutrients to assessing general dietary patterns. Conventional and whole foods can be definitively linked to reduced symptoms.

One study suggests that people who eat the common Western diet, which is full of unhealthy fats and sugars, may be more likely to develop depression, attention deficit disorder, and other problems.

analysis known as Study group SUN (University Seguimiento of Navarra) They followed more than 10,000 college students over four years and found that those who stuck to the Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent lower risk of developing depression than those with the lowest adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

A 2018 study by LaChance and Ramsey found that several foods are associated with lower depression. The animal foods that scored the highest were:

  • Bivalves (soft-bodied invertebrates in a two-part articulated shell) – oysters, clams, mussels.
  • Various seafood – octopus, crab, tuna, fish, fish roe (fish eggs), blue fish, wolf, pollock, lobsters, rainbow trout, snail, spotfish, salmon, herring, and snapper.
  • Organ meats – spleen, kidneys, heart and giblets of poultry.
Antidepressant animal foods Food grade antidepressant (AFS domain)
oyster 56 percent
Liver and organ meats (spleen, kidney, heart) 18% – 38%
poultry giblets 31 percent
quiet 30 percent
mussels 28 percent
Octopus 27 percent
crab 24 percent
goat 23 percent
tuna 15 percent – 21 percent
smelt 20 percent
fish roe 19 percent
bluefish 19 percent
the wolf 19 percent
Bullock 18 percent
crab 17 percent
rainbow trout 16 percent – 17 percent
snail or snail 16 percent
fish spot 16 percent
salmon 10 percent – 16 percent
salted fish 16 percent
Economic and Monetary Union 16 percent
the snapper 16 percent

As with modern fruit and vegetable production, there are also problems associated with modern animal food production.

Fish is sometimes considered the best quality superfood, but be careful when buying it to make sure it isn’t on the list of fish likely to be contaminated with heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), or radioactive toxins.

Tuna, with 15 to 21 percent in AFS, is one of the most consumed seafood, but it may be at risk of mercury poisoning. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is one of the best foods you can eat, but make sure when buying it that it’s not farmed fish, as it’s likely been fed a diet of genetically modified soybeans and corn.

There are also issues with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which increase the risk of animal disease and contaminants from drugs and animal by-products.

Herring is one of the top five healthy fish and a local and sustainable food source. Small fish, such as sardines, anchovies, and herring, generally contain fewer pollutants and are rich in omega-3 fats.

Joseph Mercola


Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder of Osteopath, bestselling author, and multi-award winning natural health practitioner, his primary vision is to change the modern health paradigm by providing people with a valuable resource to help them take control of their health.

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