4 Types of Anti-Depression Brain Foods

by Robert Phillips
happy and sad faces on yellow and black balloons.

Nutrition psychiatry is a growing discipline in the health care industry. The premise is simple – what you eat affects your mental health. We all know that what we put in our mouth directly affects our physical health. But what science is trying to do now is to discover which kinds of foods can improve our mental health and help us fight mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

Many studies have focused on identifying which nutrients, that when lacking in the body, are associated with depression and other mental health problems. Here are examples of these nutrients that you should include in your daily meals, along with the types of food that are rich in them.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

omega 3 datty acid rich food, salmon, avocado

These are not just good for lowering your bad cholesterol levels. Two examples of Omega-3 fatty acids that are extremely important for the brain are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The former is associated with reduced levels of depression while the latter is associated with brain development.

Together, these two Omega-3s keep the brain healthy and protect against mental disorders. At present, there is no official recommended daily allowance for Omega-3s, but many health organizations advice that you should consume at least 250-500 mg of Omega-3s daily. According the the USDA, these are the types of fish with the highest amount of EPA and DHA per 100 gram-serving.

Description DHA Content Per 100 grams EPA Content Per 100 grams Total lipid (fat) Per 100 grams
Caviar (black and red) 3.8 2.74 17.9
Mackerel (salted) 2.96 1.62 25.1
Roe (mixed species, cooked in dry heat) 1.75 1.26 8.23
Salmon (Atlantic, farmed, cooked in dry heat) 1.46 0.69 12.35
Salmon (Atlantic, wild, cooked in dry heat) 1.43 0.41 8.13
Anchovy (canned in oil) 1.29 0.76 9.71
Whitefish (cooked in dry heat) 1.21 0.41 7.51
Herring (kippered) 1.18 0.97 12.37
Fresh blue fin tuna (cooked in dry heat) 1.14 0.36 6.28
Salmon (chinook, raw) 0.94 1.01 10.43

Folate And Vitamin B12

Studies show that patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD), when treated with folic acid and vitamin B12 daily, show decreased symptoms of depression. However, those who have low levels of vitamin B12 are prone to more brain inflammation as well as higher rates of depression. To stay physically and mentally healthy, you should consume at least 400 micrograms of folate and only 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily.

Foods that are rich in vitamin B12 include animal foods such as milk and cheese. Yogurt also contains B12, and so do animal organs like liver, kidney, and giblets. Poultry and meat are also high in vitamin B12, and meat substitutes like eggs or soy burgers can also give you the amount of B12 you need every day.

Folate and folic acid, on the other hand, can be found in vegetables, fruits, grain products, milk and its alternatives, as well as in organ meat. For vegetables, the ones with the highest content of folate or folic acid are edamame, okra, spinach, artichoke, turnip greens, broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, lettuce, endive, beets, and spinach. Fruits that are rich in folate include avocado and papaya. Grain products, beans, and peas also have high folate or folic acid content.

Magnesium And Zinc

Studies show that patients suffering from mental disorders such as major depressive disorder (MDD), when undergoing treatment supplemented by magnesium, were able to recover from major depression in less than a week.

meat, raw steak, zincOn the other hand, people with clinical depression show low levels of zinc, an important mineral that gives the brain protection from free radicals. These two minerals are both associated with increased effectiveness of antidepressant medications. Here are examples of foods that contain a lot of magnesium and zinc. For magnesium, men need to take at least 400 mg per day, while it is 11 mg per day for zinc. (Food types and mineral nutrition value data sourced from a dietitians’ organization.)

Food Magnesium (mg)
Spinach, cooked 83 (½ cup serving size)
Cereals, All Bran 85-97 (30g serving size)
Yogurt, soy 70 (¾ cup serving size)
Peas, cooked 121 (¾ cup serving size)
Soybeans, mature, cooked 109 (¾ cup serving size)
Beans, cooked 60-89 (¾ cup serving size)
Pumpkin or squash seeds, without shell 317 (¼ cup serving size)
Almonds, without shell 88-109  (¼ cup serving size)
Cashews, without shell 90 (¼ cup serving size)
Salmon, Chinook, cooked 92 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Mackerel, Atlantic, cooked 73 (2 ½ oz serving size)

Food Zinc (mg)
Beef, cooked 4.0-8.6 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Veal, cooked 2.3-7.4 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Liver, cooked 3.0-6.0 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Lamb, cooked 2.0-6.5 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Pork, cooked 2.3-3.9 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Baked beans, cooked 4.3 (¾ cup serving size)
Wild Easter oysters, cooked 45.8-59.0 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Crab, cooked 2.7-5.7 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Octopus, cooked 2.5 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Lobster, cooked 3 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Clams, cooked 2.1 (2 ½ oz serving size)
Mussels, cooked 2 (2 ½ oz serving size)

Amino Acids

Certain amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine play an important role in fighting depression. For instance, tryptophan helps increase serotonin levels, while tyrosine is a building block for dopamine. Phenylalanine is also important because it is necessary in the production of neurotransmitters that are crucial in mood regulation like adrenaline. Studies have shown that when you have low levels of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenalin, you may have higher risks of depression. Here are examples of foods containing amino acids that can help you fight depression. (Food types and amino acid nutrition value data sourced from USDA.)

Food Tryptophan (g)
Value Per 100 grams
Tyrosine (g)
Value Per 100 grams
Phenylalanine (g)
Value Per 100 grams
Low-fat sesame flour 1.1 2.1 2.66
Soy-based protein powder 0.72 2.17 2.96
Salted pumpkin and squash seed kernels 0.57 1.08 1.71
Cheddar cheese 0.55 1.11 1.07
Ground lean pork 0.39 1.29 1.3
Trimmed beef 0.39 1.16 1.35
Beef loin 0.38 1.31 1.38
Fish roe 0.38 1.44 1.4
Crustaceans 0.37 0.88 1.11
Dried butternuts 0.37 0.98 1.44


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