(No. 2 might surprise you!)
Americans are suffering from depression more than ever before.
The ongoing pandemic, stressors of everyday life, and even moods that shift with the seasons are all contributing factors.
(Many people tend to attribute seasonal sadness to the long, cold, dark days of winter. But statistics show that as we approach spring, mental health symptoms actually spike for a lot of sufferers.)
So, even if you can’t exactly put your finger on any one factor affecting your mood, I have some good news…
You can dine your way out of depression.
That’s right: There are a number of delicious “mood foods” that can help combat these feelings of depression and allow your mental health to SOAR.
All you have to do is add them to your weekly menu.
1.) Morning brew cuts suicide risk
As I discuss on page 1, coffee’s reputation has shifted in recent years, elevating it from a common “vice” to a bonafide health “food”. So it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that this morning staple can safeguard your mood, too.
Researchers used data from 43,599 men enrolled in Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, 73,820 women from their famous Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), and just over 91,000 women from the NHS II study.
Food frequency questionnaires documented subjects’ coffee consumption (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) every four years for two full decades.
In the case of caffeinated coffee, at least, results showed that those who drank two to three cups a day benefited from a 45 percent lower suicide risk.1 (That’s compared to people who only drank about one cup a week or less.)
The study’s authors believe caffeine doses around 400 mg a day—which is the amount you’ll typically find in a few cups of coffee—may help combat depression by boosting activity of mood-regulating neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine).
2.) Lighten up with dark chocolate
That’s right… all those people who reach for chocolate when they’re depressed are on to something. (Well, assuming they’re reaching for dark chocolate!)
A recent study analyzed data from more than 13,000 participants of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
After adjusting for a long list of other factors, researchers found a significant link between people who reported eating dark chocolate and symptoms of clinical depression.
In fact, subjects who enjoyed any dark chocolate at all over two, 24-hour periods had a staggering 70 percent lower odds of reporting symptoms of clinical depression, compared to those who didn’t eat any chocolate.2
It’s important to note that NO link was found between non-dark chocolate consumption (like milk or white chocolate) and reduced odds of clinical depression symptoms—which isn’t surprising.
When you add in junk like milk and sugar, you’re pushing out the good stuff—like inflammation-fighting flavanols, euphoria-inducing substances, and key neuromodulators like phenylethylamine.
That’s why it’s key to stick with a product that’s as pure and unadulterated as possible.
I recommend any dark chocolate that contains at least 85 percent cocoa. Even better, try sweetening up 100 percent pure cacao with just a little bit of stevia or monk fruit. That’s what I do… and it always helps lighten up my mood.
3.) Elevate your mood with mushrooms
Yet another recent study reviewed diet and mental health data from more than 24,000 participants from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This time, results showed a clear link between mushroom consumption and lower odds of depression.3
This link was independent of other factors—like social and economic status, lifestyle, self-reported health problems, and medication use—to boot.
So—what types of mushrooms offer these benefits?
Well, there are many varieties of edible mushrooms, all of which offer a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So you really can’t go wrong. Popular varieties include white button, portobello, shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane mushrooms.
Not to mention, researchers have turned their microscope on one antioxidant amino acid in particular, called ergothioneine, and its effect on mood.
Animal research suggests this amino acid can cross the blood brain barrier. It also plays a role in gut health. (And what’s good for your gut is good for your brain and your mood.) Plus, researchers believe it lowers oxidative stress, which in turn boosts your mood.
The good news is, humans can only get ergothioneine through diet. And it just so happens that mushrooms are the most abundant source. So—start cooking with them, starting TODAY!
4.) Fend off depression with fish
Back in 2015, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a meta-analysis of 26 studies involving 150,278 participants from around the globe, including Europe, North America, Asia, Oceania, and South America.
The researchers reviewed data to see how fish consumption influenced risk for depression. Out of the 26 studies they collected, 12 of them showed a significant protective effect.4
Of course, fish has always been considered a brain food, so this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. But what makes this study noteworthy is that it looked at consumption of fish as a food.
Previous studies typically examined the effects of supplementing with the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, such as EPA and DHA. And while I do recommend supplementing with a high-quality fish oil daily (3,000 mg of EPA/DHA), it’s important to remember that nutrition is a complex science.
There are many factors that work synergistically to help us thrive. And there are other nutrients in fish that likely play a role in reducing symptoms of depression, like vitamin D (which is also found in mushrooms), and magnesium (which can be found in leafy green vegetables like spinach), to name a few.
I encourage you to enjoy wild-caught fish and seafood as often as possible. If this isn’t something you typically enjoy, start slow. Add it to the menu once a week and go from there.
5.) Power down stress with produce
This may seem like an obvious recommendation. But recent research underscores just how powerful fresh produce can be—and with farmer’s markets opening again in full swing for the spring and summer, your best mood medicine is just a shopping trip away.
Last year, Australian researchers found that people who ate at least 470 grams—that’s a little over 16.5 ounces, or about two cups of raw, leafy greens—of fruits and veggies daily have ten percent lower stress levels than people who eat half that daily amount.5 This was true across a wide range of ages, with subjects spanning from 25 to 91 years old.
Fresh produce is packed with inflammation-fighting vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
But the important takeaway here is that most people aren’t eating enough to make a real difference to their mood. Because studies also show that the typical “five a day” recommendation doesn’t quite cut it.
In fact, one 2012 study of more than 80,000 people found that mental well-being actually peaks at seven servings of fruit and vegetables per day.6 An easy way to hit this target is to enjoy fresh produce with every meal. It also makes for a healthy, nutritious snack throughout the day.
6.) Meat might make you happy
As I have warned you time and again, vegetarians aren’t necessarily healthier. In fact, they actually face a greater risk of depression than omnivores.
A recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of nearly 10,000 men showed that male subjects who reported themselves as vegetarian or vegan placed significantly higher on depression scales than meat-eaters—with more of them scoring above 10, indicating mild to moderate depression.7
This certainly makes sense from a nutritional point of view. Deficiencies in key nutrients such as iron, zinc, CLA, B12, folate, and essential fatty acids (omega-3s in particular), are all significant drivers of depression.
And you risk becoming deficient in all of them by following strict, plant-based eating habits—especially if you eat the way that most vegetarians in this country do.
Because let’s face it—our brains are almost all fat.
You can only deprive yourself of healthy fats and rely on cheap oils for so long before experiencing noticeable consequences. So it’s no surprise that this study also revealed the longer you’ve been vegetarian, the greater the potential impact on your mood.
Of course, this study only addressed male vegetarians—but women face the same risk. In fact, a different study of more than 1,000 Australian women delivered a very similar outcome in cases of red meat restriction.
Interestingly, this research showed a U-shaped relationship between red meat and clinical depression and anxiety. Meaning that the women who ate both the least and the most amount of red meat were significantly more likely to suffer from both mood disorders.8
I always encourage you to include meat as part of your healthy, balanced diet. And as these studies suggest, moderate consumption can boost your mood.
There is one caveat here: There’s a vast difference between conventionally raised meat and meat from grass-fed and -finished, pasture-raised, free-roaming animals (eating the diet they should naturally be eating). The latter of which is the only kind I’ll eat—and it’s what I recommend to you, too.
Your kitchen is your best friend
The bottom line to all of this? Your kitchen is a prime battle ground for your mental health… and cooking with the right foods is one surefire strategy to win.
Say no to convenient junk foods and yes to the various health foods we discussed. Your mood will thank you for years to come.
To help get you started, I have plenty of healthy recipes that feature all of these nutritious, mood-boosting foods in my A-List Diet book. (Order yourself a copy today: www.AListDietBook.com.)
You can also find cooking tips and quick, sometimes one-pot meals on my Cooking With Dr. Fred Show. So if you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel, “The Dr. Fred Show,” and follow me on Instagram, @DrFredNYC.
- “Coffee, caffeine, and risk of completed suicide: Results from three prospective cohorts of American adults.” World J Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jul 2.
- Jackson SE, et al. “Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross‐sectional survey of 13,626 US adults.” Depression and Anxiety, 2019; DOI: 10.1002/da.22950
- “There’s Something About Eating Mushrooms That Seems to Lower Depression Risk.” Science Alert, 01/01/2022. (https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-locate-a-link-between-eating-mushrooms-and-a-lower-risk-of-depression)
- Li F, et al. “Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis.” J Epidemiol Community Health. 2016 Mar;70(3):299-304.
- Radavelli-Bagatini S, et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake is inversely associated with perceived stress across the adult lifespan.” Clinical Nutrition, 2021; 40 (5): 2860.
- Blanchflower DG, et al. “Is Psychological Well-Being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?” Social Indicators Research, Vol. 114, No. 3 (December 2013), pp. 785-801.
- Hibbeln JR, et al. Vegetarian diets and depressive symptoms among men. J Affect Disord. 2018 Jan 1;225:13-17.
- Jacka FN, et al. “Red meat consumption and mood and anxiety disorders.” Psychother Psychosom. 2012;81(3):196-8.