Major depressive disorder (MDD) can have a huge impact on your life. You may lose interest in your favorite activities, have difficulty sleeping, or experience a change in appetite. Persistent sadness, irritability, and frustration can also change your relationships with family and friends, or interfere with your ability to concentrate at work or school.
MDD, also known as clinical depression, is characterized by sadness that lasts for weeks or months. Some people find relief with treatment. But even with antidepressants and talk therapy, symptoms may linger.
If you’re looking for an approach to supplement your current therapy, adding certain foods to your diet can make a difference. Although there’s no specific diet to relieve symptoms of MDD, some foods may provide a much-needed mood boost.
Low levels of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and folate can increase the risk of depression. These vitamins affect mood and brain function. A deficiency may occur if you don’t consume enough food rich in B vitamins, or if you have a medical condition that makes it difficult for your body to absorb vitamins. This can happen with digestive disorders, such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.
Your doctor can test your vitamin B levels and, if necessary, recommend a vitamin B supplement. You should also modify your diet and include foods rich in these vitamins. Good sources of vitamin B include:
- beet roots
- dark, leafy greens
- fish, poultry, and other lean meats
- low-fat or fat-free milk
If you have MDD, you may be deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to mood disorders. A simple blood test can diagnose a deficiency.
Depending on the severity of your deficiency, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter vitamin D supplements or give you a prescription for vitamin D. If you prefer not taking a supplement, eating the right foods may correct a deficiency.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s essential for strong bones. So if you have a vitamin D deficiency, you may also experience other symptoms like unexplained aches and pains.
Because the sun is an excellent source of vitamin D, increasing the amount of time you spend outdoors can improve your mood and relieve symptoms of depression. If you can’t get outdoors, sit or work under a vitamin D light box for about 30 minutes a day. This box emits light that mimics natural sunlight.
In addition to these suggestions, eating more vitamin D-rich foods can have a positive impact on your mood. Good sources of vitamin D include:
- beef liver
- vitamin D-fortified dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
- egg yolks
- fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon)
- portobello mushrooms
- vitamin D-fortified orange juice
If you’re not eating enough omega-3 fatty acids, you may also have difficulty managing your depression symptoms. Fatty acids are essential to good health and offer several benefits. They can:
- reduce inflammation
- lower your risk of cancer
- improve heart health
- boost mood
Your body doesn’t naturally produce fatty acids. You receive these fats through food.
Mood swings and depression can occur if you have a deficiency. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- fatty fish (tuna, salmon, and sardines)
- dark, leafy greens
Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids alone may not significantly improve depression. But you may see improvement if you eat omega-3 foods along with taking an antidepressant.
If you prefer an omega-3 supplement, talk to your doctor before combining a supplement with your prescription medication.
There’s also a link between low selenium levels and depression. Selenium is a trace mineral with antioxidant properties, so it can protect your body from cell damage. Because this mineral is also important to brain function, a deficiency can trigger low moods.
Taking a selenium supplement along with an antidepressant might help. You can also increase your intake of selenium through food. Good sources of selenium include:
- brown or white rice
- chia seeds
- egg noodles
- portobello mushrooms
- seafood (tilapia, bass, oysters, salmon sardines, and crab)
- sunflower seeds
- whole wheat pasta
When you’re feeling down, you may crave junk foods to feel better. The good news is that you don’t have to feel guilty about reaching for a chocolate bar. Dark chocolate may improve depression. Chocolate increases the brain’s production of endorphins, which are hormones that affect mood.
However, it’s important to consume dark chocolate in moderation. Too much can raise your blood sugar and cause a sugar crash.
Be aware that alcohol and caffeine may worsen your symptoms. Some people turn to alcohol to numb the pain of depression and feel better. Alcohol is fine in moderation, but too much can reduce serotonin levels and increase anxiety and depression. Caffeine is also linked to lower serotonin levels.
Depression can be debilitating, but there are ways to improve your symptoms. You shouldn’t stop your current treatment unless advised by your doctor. You can, however, supplement your treatment by modifying your diet and adding mood-boosting foods. If it’s more convenient to correct a deficiency with a supplement, speak with your doctor first.