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What are the best foods for depression and mental health?

Your body is an incredible machine! But in the same way that we put oil and petrol in our cars, we need to put the right ingredients into our bodies to make sure we can run at speed.

Yellow smoothie bowl with a banana and a palm tree and a toucan carved out of fruits

Putting the right food and drink into your body can not only improve your mood but it can give you energy and help you to think more clearly.

If you are struggling with your mental health taking some time to look at your diet can really help to make you feel better, especially if you combine it with getting good sleep, exercise, and mindfulness.

Wondering about the best foods for depression? Follow the guide to learn more about foods that can help, foods that definitely don't, and how your eating habits can affect your mood.

The best foods for depression

A healthy diet alone cannot cure depression or low mood, but it can contribute to overall wellbeing and work wonders for your long-term mental health. Here are some of the most often recommended feel-good foods for depression:

1. Fatty fish

Fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health. Some studies suggest that omega-3s may help reduce symptoms of depression. It's a great natural food for depression if you're omnivorous or pescatarian.

2. Leafy greens

Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are packed with essential nutrients like folate, which is associated with a lower risk of depression. Why not try a delicious mood-boosting spinach curry tonight?

3. Whole grains

Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oats provide a slow and steady release of energy, which can help stabilize mood and prevent blood sugar fluctuations. When you have a choice, try to favor them over their white counterparts.

4. Berries

The best food for depression on the deliciousness scale! Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals that may have positive effects on brain health. Pop some in your yogurt or cereals at breakfast tomorrow!

5. Nuts and seeds

Nuts are excellent foods for physical and mental health. Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and other nutrients that support brain function.

6. Legumes

Beans on (wholegrain) toast, anyone? Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of plant-based protein, fiber, and minerals. They can help regulate blood sugar levels and provide a steady release of energy. Perfect for vegans!

7. Fermented foods

Sound suspicious? Fear not, fermented foods are great for mental health. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi contain beneficial bacteria that support gut health. Emerging research suggests a connection between gut health and mental wellbeing. Who'd have known sauerkraut would be a good food for depression?

8. Dark chocolate

Yes, please! Dark chocolate, in moderation, contains compounds that may promote the release of endorphins and boost mood. Look for chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa (70% or more) and limited added sugars. It's one of the best foods for depression, as predicted by professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series!

These might be the best foods for mental health, but it's important to remember that individual responses to different foods may vary and that what works for one person may not work for another.

If you want to learn more about your specific needs, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

What are the worst foods for mental health?

On the flip side, foods that are highly processed or contain a lot of sugar (pizza, burgers, chips, fizzy drinks) can have a negative impact on how you feel.

Stay away from processed food

Processed food is food that has been altered from its natural state. Let’s take a potato... If you dig it up from your garden, give it a wash, and steam it then not much has happened to get that potato from its natural state into your belly!

However, imagine that that same potato goes from your garden to a factory where it’s sliced up, covered in sugar and flavoring, boiled in oil, perhaps baked once or twice more, supplemented with chemicals to help the fries last longer and retain their color and shape before being frozen, arriving at your supermarket at finally being cooked once more by you in your oven!

That potato has gone through one heck of a journey! And each stage removes some of the good nutrition and replaces it with not-so-good chemicals.

Watch out for salt

Salt is also a key ingredient to manage carefully for your physical and mental health. Too much salt raises your blood pressure and can put a strain on your organs, particularly your heart, arteries, kidney, and brain.

Salt naturally occurs in food and it is rare that you will need to supplement your food with salt from a nutritional angle. Many of us have become accustomed to adding salt to our food and taking it away can make food taste a little bland for a while but this won’t last and you will soon be appreciating the natural flavor of food!

Know your sugars

Sugar can be equally harmful if you eat too much of it. Sugar is found in lots of food, for example, fruit, and is a natural part of a healthy diet. Sugar becomes more of a problem when it is processed.

So how does sugar affect your mental health? Eating sugar can give you a high or a sudden boost of energy, it can also make us crave it. But it also comes with its own downsides.

Now it’s not all bad news and common advice around eating is to try and eat a balance of foods. The problems come when our diets are so focused on certain food types that our bodies are not getting the mix of foods that we need.

Building better eating habits for your mental health

Your mental health is not just affected by food. It's also influenced by your eating habits. Here are a few things to look out for for good mental health.

Eat on schedule

Eat at regular intervals. Your body needs regular fuel to keep it going, like a fire! Your blood sugar is your body's way of getting energy and it gets that from the food we eat. If your blood sugar level drops, then so might your mood. If your blood sugar gets too high, that can also be harmful too. It's a constant balancing act!

To help keep your blood sugar in check, make sure you don’t leave too long between meals. Some people find that having more smaller meals throughout the day works better for them than three bigger meals but see what makes you feel the best.

Hydrate, don't hate!

Let’s quickly talk about water too. Did you know that 60% of your body is made up of water? Drinking lots of it throughout the day keeps you hydrated and lessens the likelihood of you feeling tired, lethargic, and having headaches. Again, drinking water in its purest form is the best way to go if you can!

These are just a few reminders to support you to ensure that you are nourishing your body, eating the best foods for depression and mental health, and giving yourself the best chance to feel good each day.

If you haven’t given the food you eat much thought, try and plan your weekly meal schedule to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet without having to rush to the shop at the last minute to get a frozen pizza. Good luck!


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