Foods That Combat Depression: Add These 12 Things To Your Diet

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you’re experiencing depression and anxiety, you may be surprised to discover that your diet can make an impact on your mental illness. While changing your diet might not heal your depression entirely, focusing on nutrition can have a positive influence on mental wellness. It may still be important to discuss treatment options with your counselor or another mental health professional. Still, the use of food to fight depression has been studied and found effective in various cases.

There are many ways to treat depression

12 foods that combat depression and anxiety

Specific nutrients play a role in not only treating depression but preventing it, too. In fact, of all the nutrients in foods, there are 12 that seem to make a difference in major depressive disorder and other mental illnesses. The 12 nutrients that can help include:

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  2. Vitamin A
  3. Vitamin B6
  4. Vitamin B12
  5. Vitamin C
  6. Iron
  7. Folate
  8. Magnesium
  9. Potassium
  10.  Selenium
  11.  Thiamine
  12.  Zinc

By adding these nutrients to their diet, those experiencing major depression, anxiety disorders, or other types of mental illness might see some improvement. You might be wondering, though, which foods should be eaten to include these 12 nutrients.

A varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and other healthy foods can help you to get the nutrients required.

The results of a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish could decrease the risk of depression.

Additionally, avoiding sugary foods and other types of junk food can play a key role in mental wellness. In another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that a diet high in added sugar can be a risk factor for depression.

Identifying a few items rich in each nutrient category might help you to plan out your meals more effectively for fighting depression and anxiety.

Essential nutrients you can get from food

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are most commonly found in fish. Fish high in this nutrient include mackerel, salmon, sardines, and cod liver oil. This nutrient can also be found in walnuts and kidney beans as well as flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. Seaweed and algae are other options, though less common. With such variety, getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet shouldn’t be too difficult. If you find it hard to consume these foods, fish oil can be purchased in pill form.

Vitamin A

The human body doesn’t produce vitamin A, so it’s essential to consume the nutrient in your regular diet. Certain foods can be eaten to get the proper amount of vitamin A to effectively assist in fighting depression. Egg yolks and milk are common foods that contain this nutrient, for example. Fruit and vegetable options include a variety of squashes, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and papayas. While these foods are essential for vitamin A consumption, overcooking them can decrease their nutritional value. Ensure proper cooking to gain the most from these foods.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is present in many foods but is far more potent in some foods than others. For example, chickpeas and beef liver have more than double the amount of vitamin B6 than turkey or boiled potatoes. However, each of these food items are a rich source of the nutrient. Those looking to increase their B6 intake can also eat tuna, salmon, or chicken breast. Non-meat or fish options include bananas, onions, cottage cheese, rice, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Vitamin B6 can also be found in a supplement form at your local pharmacy or grocery store.

Vitamin B12

B12 is a nutrient that is mostly found in animal products, including eggs, milk, fish, and meat. The foods with the highest levels of B12 are clams, beef liver, trout, salmon, beef, yogurt, and cheese. Vegetarians often find their source of B12 in fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin B12 can also be consumed in pill form, added to the body via patches, or even injected when prescribed by a doctor.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C boosts the immune system and has been shown to fight fatigue and improve mood. People often believe that vitamin C is highest in oranges. Although oranges are high in vitamin C, several foods contain even more than this citrus fruit. Chili peppers, bell peppers, kale, and broccoli contain a large amount of vitamin C. Other foods higher in nutrients than oranges are papaya, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, strawberries, kiwi, mango, and pineapple. Drinking orange juice is one way to increase your vitamin C intake, but if you wish to go the juice route, you could also consider pineapple juice, mango juice, or even strawberry kiwi juice.


Iron can be found in many food sources, though some have higher concentrations than others. In fact, there are two kinds of iron: heme and non-heme. While heme iron is absorbed up to 30%, non-heme iron is absorbed by the human body in amounts of 10% or less. Heme iron comes from animal sources, and non-heme comes from plant-based sources. Foods rich in heme iron are beef, lamb, shrimp, clams, tuna, and eggs. Those with high levels of non-heme iron include spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, strawberries, watermelon, and beans. A diet with a variety of both kinds of iron can help the body to absorb everything it needs.

What to eat for folate consumption

Folate, also known as folic acid, is a nutrient that is necessary for brain function and development. It is often the focus of a pregnant woman’s diet and is believed to play a role in preventing mental health issues. Foods that contain a lot of folates are dark green, leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce, asparagus, and spinach. Other options include beans, eggs, peanuts, and fresh fruits. Whole grains and seafood also contain good amounts of this nutrient. If you find yourself unable to consume enough of this nutrient from food sources, it is commonly consumed via supplements.

Ilona Titova/EyeEm

Best things to eat for magnesium

Bananas, raspberries, avocados, spinach, kale, nuts, peas, broccoli, cabbage, and salmon are foods that contain a good amount of magnesium. Dark chocolate is a treat that also contains high levels of this nutrient. A magnesium-rich smoothie such as one containing kale, banana, raspberries, avocado, and nut butter can help you to increase your intake quickly. A shake containing these items would also serve to increase other necessary nutrients for fighting depression.

Potassium-rich foods

Some of the foods richest in potassium include apricots, bananas, oranges, a variety of beans, spinach, sweet potatoes, zucchini, yogurt, and salmon. Studies have shown that potassium deficiency can add to mental fatigue, serving to worsen depression and its symptoms. Consuming a healthy amount of potassium throughout the day may help to improve your overall mental health.

Foods high in selenium

study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found a link between decreased levels of selenium and low mood, fatigue, and anxiety. Many of the best foods for selenium are dairy and whole-grain products. For example, milk, yogurt, and fortified breakfast cereals are excellent sources of selenium. A hearty bowl of cereal in the morning can serve to provide you with a large amount of the necessary nutrients to help with your mental health. Other foods to consider are chicken, turkey, beef, shellfish, Brazil nuts, and brown rice. It is important to consider eating the proper amount of selenium, but too much selenium can have a negative effect on the body.

How to get enough thiamine

Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is found in whole grains, fish, and various meats. This is a nutrient that can be lost by overcooking food items, so the foods must be cooked to an appropriate temperature to avoid losing nutritional value. White rice, egg noodles, English muffins, and whole wheat macaroni contain high levels of Thiamine. Fish such as trout and tuna also serve as good sources of this nutrient. Meats that are high in Thiamine are pork and beef. A diet that includes each of these components is sure to be a diet with plenty of thiamine.

Zinc in food

Zinc is found in a wide array of food sources from pumpkin seeds to oysters, and beef to chickpeas. It’s also found in oatmeal, peas, baked beans, dark meat chicken, pork, yogurt, and milk. There are also supplements available over the counter for this nutrient. A zinc deficiency has been found to contribute to numerous psychological disorders and problems. By focusing on increasing zinc intake, people with both depression and anxiety may notice a positive change.

There are many ways to treat depression

Using food to improve depression symptoms

Food fuels your brain, so it makes sense that what you eat has an impact on your mental health. By working to control your nutrition—eating fewer processed foods and more nutrient-rich foods—you may discover that your depression symptoms are more manageable. If you still struggle with consuming the right kinds of nutrients, taking vitamins and supplements for these components can be a help. If you have doubts, talk to your mental health professional to discover how a specific diet might fit into your treatment plan and possibly improve brain function. 

Beyond diet changes for depression

While a well-balanced diet can provide many benefits, changing your diet alone may not provide the change needed compared to more thorough forms of treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, consider seeking professional help for advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Certain symptoms of depression can act as a barrier to treatment, though, especially in-person therapy. If you’re experiencing extreme fatigue, for example, getting out of bed and traveling to a therapist’s office may not be feasible. In cases like this, online therapy may be a more viable alternative.  With online therapy, you don’t have to leave your home to talk with a licensed professional. Plus, appointment times are available day or night, making it more convenient than traditional forms of therapy. 

This type of therapy has been thoroughly researched by experts in the field of mental health with promising results. One recent study showed that online interventions had positive effects on both depression and anxiety. These results were amplified when internet-based interventions were pursued alongside a qualified therapist. 


Lifestyle changes such as adopting a diet of nutrient-rich foods is an effective way of managing depression in some cases. Other times, other proven treatments such as therapy are necessary. The licensed therapists at BetterHelp are prepared to help you overcome mental health challenges, including symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses. Take the first step to a healthier, happier future.
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