Diet for Depression: Does Eating Make You Happy?

© Brian Jackson –,

There is no question that our food can affect our mood. But can diet help against depression? Nutritionists have been dealing with this question for a long time and have come to a clear conclusion.

Sour is fun, chocolate makes you happy. Many proverbs contain advice on how food can cheer you up. Our diet affects not only the body, but also our state of mind – this knowledge is thousands of years old.

But how much does food really affect our psyche? And is there a “diet against depression”?

Diet for depression: how are the two related?

In fact, many scientists are studying the relationship between diet and the development of depression. The researchers are pursuing different approaches:

  • Our food contains nutrients that affect the neurotransmitters in the brain – the happiness hormones. If certain nutrients are missing, fewer happiness hormones are produced. That also affects the mood.
  • The immune system reacts to our diet and influences the psyche.
  • The gastrointestinal tract consists of a complex network of nerves. It is considered a “second brain” and can affect the brain’s emotional center.
  • The bacteria in the gut affect our mood.

Depression is not uncommon

Depression and depressive disorders are among the most common and most underestimated diseases. An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from it. In Germany, the incidence of depression with a share of 9.2 percent is even slightly higher than the European average (6.6 percent), as the results of the European Health Interview Survey (EHIS) demonstrate. In addition, in 2020 there will be psychological stress from the corona crisis, which can exacerbate existing mental illnesses. And even in people who have not previously suffered from any mental illness, loneliness, loss of income, grief or fear can trigger psychological crises or even depression.

A general decline in performance, diffuse physical complaints, loss of appetite and sleep disorders can indicate the onset of a depressive disorder. Affected people often lose their joy and interest, are generally listless and can no longer make decisions. Some tend to complain of feelings of indifference – others feel restless inside, driven and suffer from fear.

Various things can trigger depression: crises, losses, a difficult childhood and also genetic predisposition. All causes trigger a lack of chemical messenger substances – the neurotransmitters – in the brain. The neurotransmitters are involved in transmitting nerve impulses. They include serotonin and dopamine – both also known as happiness hormones. In order to produce these substances, the body needs nutrients. If the body lacks these nutrients, this can contribute to a psychological imbalance and promote depression.

Healthy diet for depression

In a Meta-study In 2012, researchers examined the relationship between adult depression risk and a healthy diet. A total of eleven studies were included and critically assessed. The results show that a healthy diet – with lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes – can lower the risk of developing depression. These foods contain folates, omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids, which are important for the formation of neurotransmitters.

Fast food burger fries nutrition against depression
Fast food is good for the soul? Rather the opposite is the case: Fast food does not provide enough nutrients and can promote depression. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / – msqrd2)

Another, American study confirmed in 2010 that a diet high in processed foods increases the risk of developing depression. The reason is obvious: sweets, white bread, burgers and frozen pizzas lack nutrients – in particular vital and brain-relevant substances such as essential fatty acids, magnesium or vitamins B6, B9 and B12. The lack of nutrients promotes the development of depression.

Currently, depression is mostly treated with medication and therapies – a change in diet against depression plays a subordinate role.

Which foods help against depression?

If you want to prevent depression or fight the existing illness, you should pay attention to a healthy, varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Little processed foods, many important nutrients and good fats can have a significant impact on psychological well-being and support therapy.

Scientists share five general nutrition tips for preventing depression (source):

  1. Follow traditional diets like the Mediterranean diet.
  2. Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
  3. Eat lots of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. Replace unhealthy foods with healthy and nutritious foods.
  5. Limit your consumption of processed foods, fast foods, commercial baked goods, and candy.

There are also individual foods that have a positive effect on the production of neurotransmitters: Bananas (from fair cultivation), Avocado, nuts, peppers, carrots for example support the production of the happiness hormone dopamine. Against a serotonin deficiency you can Potatoes, fennel, figs, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and spinach help. They contain precursors of the neurotransmitter.

Norepinephrine is also a neurotransmitter that your body should make enough to prevent depression. Green vegetables, oats, apples, pineapples, bananas and almonds contain building blocks for building the messenger substance.

The neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid plays an important role in inner calm and relaxation. A deficiency can lead to restlessness and anxiety disorders. Wheat Bran and Fish can prevent this. Also Almonds, walnuts and nuts, oranges, bananas, lentils, oats, whole grains and brown rice or vegetables like Broccoli and spinach are foods that are rich in gamma-aminobutyric acid.

Fats are very important for the psyche and in the fight against depression. Around 60% of the dry weight of our brain is made up of fat. What matters is which fats you consume. Good fats – polyunsaturated fatty acids – are important for healthy cell growth and a healthy cell metabolism. Particularly high-quality, natural and gently pressed oils such as linseed oil are suitable for this. linseed oil contains many high quality omega-3 fatty acids. When buying, look for organic quality and store the linseed oil in a dark place.

If you want to do something good for your psyche in the morning, you can mix one to two tablespoons of linseed oil into the muesli – best garnished with fresh seasonal fruit. In this way you give your body a healthy start and ensure a long-term need for omega-3 fatty acids. Also Algae, flax seeds, wheat germ, almonds, walnuts are a good source of omega-3s.

Depressed people are often listless and listless and pay little attention to their diet. But cooking can also have an activating effect and be fun. Just have a look at ours Recipes around.

Healthy Diet As A Cure For Depression?

A healthy diet has a positive effect on the psyche, but alone cannot cure depression. Affected people who feel deeply sad, listless, tired, guilty and loss of appetite for more than two weeks or who experience symptoms such as inner emptiness and have thoughts of suicide should take the disease seriously and seek help. The influence of a healthy diet is not sufficient in severe depression and does not replace professional treatment.

Tip: If you need help or information, you can contact the German depression aid turn. There is, for example, the information telephone (0800/33 44 533, Mon, Tue, Thu: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Wed, Fri: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) as the first point of contact that anyone can use free of charge. Besides, you find here tips for dealing with depression in the Corona crisis or you can Depression selft do.

In addition to appropriate treatment and a healthy, varied diet, other factors also play an important role in the fight against depression. For example, exercise: If you exercise at least half an hour in the fresh air every day, you support both your fitness and your psyche. Studies confirm the preventive effect of physical activity on depression: the body is activated through movement, light and fresh air and releases happiness hormones such as endorphins and serotonin.


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