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by Nina Macaraig

Antidepressant Foods: Eating for Mental Health?


Would you think of your fridge as a kind of medicine cabinet for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety? It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but really is not far from the truth.

Probably you have heard people say that your physical well-being, including what you eat, is very important for your mental state. Probably you have heard of the general benefits that foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (such as salmon, walnuts and avocado) have for your brain. But did you know that an entire new field of research called Nutritional Psychiatry is emerging?[1]

There are several different mechanisms involved in how nutrition affects brain health. For example, your gut’s flora (also known as the microbiome) is a key player in cognition, mood regulation and anxiety. Therefore, you can integrate pre- and pro-biotic foods such as kefir and kimchi to help boost your gut flora. As another example, systemic inflammation in your body can be both cause and consequence of depressive symptoms.2 To prevent and support treatment of systemic inflammation, you can eat green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, fatty fish and olive oil, which all have anti-inflammatory properties.

Last year, Laura LaChance of the University of Toronto and Drew Ramsey of Columbia University together published a research study that made quite a few waves. In this study, the two psychiatrists systematically combed through thousands of published studies about nutrients for the treatment and/or prevention of depressive symptoms.

From the evidence presented in earlier research, they were then able to identify the following twelve nutrients as having proven antidepressant properties:

  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Thiamine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc

Once LaChance and Ramsey had created this list, they were able to come up with what they called the Antidepressant Food Score (AFS). This ranking system allowed them to rate individual food items based on how much of these nutrients they contain—and, by implication, how useful they can be for combatting symptoms of depression. Their goal was to create an evidence-based guideline, not only for future research, but also to establish dietary recommendations.

Here is a short list of the winners (and a few other items commonly consumed in North America) with the percentage representing the Antidepressant Nutrient content per 100-gram/3.5-ounce serving:

  • Watercress 127%
  • Spinach 97%
  • Lettuce 74-99%
  • Fresh herbs 73-75%
  • Oyster 56%
  • Kale 48-62%
  • Pumpkin 46%
  • Cauliflower 41-42%
  • Broccoli 41%
  • Brussels sprouts 35%
  • Strawberry 31%
  • Liver and organ meats 18-38%
  • Tuna 15-21%
  • Lobster 17%
  • Salmon 10-16%

If a complete change to a Mediterranean diet is out of the question for you—for instance, due to food sensitivities or personal taste, as no size fits all when it comes to nutrition—then the AFS list offers an easy way to pick and choose your preferred food items most dense in antidepressant nutrients. So, yes, your fridge can be a medicine cabinet of sorts…







- Gregory Scott Brown, “Integrating Nutrient Profiling in Depression Management,” Psychology Todayhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/green-psychiatry/201810/integrating-nutrient-profiling-in-depression-management  

- Laura LChance and Drew Ramsey, “Antidepressant Foods: An Evidence-Based Nutrient Profiling System for Depression,” World Journal of Psychiatry 8/3 (2018). 

- S. Opie et al., “Dietary Recommendations for the Prevention of Depression,”Nutritional Neuroscience20 (2017).


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