With the changing of seasons, sometimes seasonal depression can creep its way in. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet can help fight symptoms of depression and boost mood. There are several superfoods with mental health benefits.
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Keep in mind that although these foods are proven to help with depressive symptoms, they cannot cure mental health disorders.
Let’s take a look at superfoods with benefits for depression and mood.
What defines a superfood?
Superfoods are a category of foods that are rich with nutrients such as antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. They are often also packed with fiber, protein and healthy fats.
“Superfoods help promote health by increasing your immune function and decreasing your chance of disease prevention or progression,” registered dietitian Beth Czerwony told the Cleveland Health Clinic.
1. Fish consumption is linked to lower depression
Fish, especially fatty and oily fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel, is proven to ward off symptoms of depression.
An analysis of 26 studies published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health notes there is a significant link between regular fish consumption and lower risk of depression and depressive symptoms.
One study suggests the fatty acid in fish could be why it can reduce the risk of depression, due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Fatty fish like salmon are linked to an improved mood in depressed individuals, according to a 2013 study.
2. Vegetables fight depressive symptoms
A colorful, balanced diet offers several health benefits, including benefits for mental health. Research shows getting a daily dose of vegetables fights depressive symptoms. The USDA recommends adults eat 2-3 cups of vegetables everyday.
Several studies (including one in 2020 and one in 2021) have found that daily consumption of vegetables and fruits is linked to greater mental well-being.
A 2016 review of several studies noted that adults who consumed more fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of depression. A 2018 study on Iranian adults came to similar conclusions — individuals who ate more vegetables had fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.
Additionally, a 2019 study found that adults who consumed a wide variety of vegetables over the course of three months experienced decreased symptoms of depression. Adults who ate a less diverse selection of vegetables also experienced decreased symptoms of depression but to a lesser degree.
3. Nuts can lower risk of depression and boost mood
Nuts are a superfood packed with mental health benefits. Eating a handful of nuts every day is linked to a lower risk of depression. A recent study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a handful of nuts daily is linked to a 17% lower risk of depression.
Researchers found that middle-aged and older adults who ate 30 grams of nuts — such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews or Brazil nuts — were less likely to take antidepressants or develop depression.
“Our findings indicate that a large sample of middle-aged and older adults from the U.K. consuming a low-to-moderate and regular frequency of nuts are less likely to develop depression than nonconsumers after a 5.3-year follow-up period, regardless of relevant sociodemographic, lifestyle, and health confounders,” according to the 2023 study.
A 2016 study found that eating walnuts over the course of two months improved mood in young males. Mood changes were not observed in females.
Another study found that individuals who ate walnuts experienced a lower risk of depression.
“Lower depression scores among consumers of walnuts appear to be traced back to better concentration, higher energy levels, more interest in doing things, and greater self-control of rates of speech and movement. These depression-related characteristics are lower among nut and walnut consumers,” reports the 2019 study.
4. Dark chocolate can improve mood
Dark chocolate is usually considered a treat, but it actually has loads of health benefits. It is packed with fiber, iron, magnesium and antioxidants. Dark chocolate can also help prevent symptoms of depression.
Dark chocolate is also associated with positive effects on mood and mental health. A 2019 study from the University College in London found that individuals who ate dark chocolate had far lower odds of reporting depressive symptoms than those who ate no chocolate at all. The same impact was not found for milk chocolate, per the American Psychiatric Association.
“Polyphenols are antioxidants that lower cortisol, a stress hormone,” dietitian Devon Peart told Cleveland Health Clinic. “So there are mood-enhancing benefits to eating dark chocolate.”
A 2022 study found that adults who ate 85% cocoa chocolate daily maintained a better mood than individuals who ate chocolate with lower cocoa content or no chocolate at all.
5. Blueberries fight postpartum blues
Blueberries boast several health benefits, such as fighting postpartum blues.
A Canadian study used blueberry juice to prevent postpartum depression in pregnant women. After giving birth, many women suffer from temporary sadness, or, postpartum blues. Researchers found that women who consumed blueberry extract or blueberry juice were significantly less vulnerable to postpartum depression.
Blueberries, which are rich with antioxidants, are proven to fight symptoms of depression in young people. A 2020 study found that over the course of a month, adolescents who consumed wild blueberry supplements self-reported lower symptoms of depression. Another study noted that children and young adults who consumed a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink experienced improved positive mood.