Mood-Boosting Foods Address Rising Mental Health Concerns


Mental health has become a major public health concern, and there is growing acceptance to talk about it and find ways to address it. These past two years have been very hard for all of us in some way and conversations around self-care and mood-boosting foods are trends across media and social platforms. Seafood has health benefits that address anxiety and depression, according to data from Seafood Nutrition Partnership. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association endorsed the fatty acids in fish as an effective part of depression treatment.

What are Mood-Boosting Foods?

When we are depressed or anxious, we naturally resist self-care, including preparing and eating nutritious food. But good nutrition is more important than ever for those suffering from depression. Research shows that our daily food choices influence our mental health. Eating a bowl of ice cream or downing a slice of chocolate cake may provide a quick fix, but comfort foods are ultimately discomfort for the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids may be mood stabilizers, playing a role in mental well-being. These are found in fish and some plant foods.  A growing body of clinical evidence suggests that low dietary intake and/or tissue levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are associated with postpartum depression. (1) In bipolar disorder (manic depression), the omega-3s may be most effective for the depressed phase rather than the manic phase of the illness. The omega-3s have also been proposed to alleviate or prevent other psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention deficit disorder.

“How you nourish your body impacts your health and how you feel,” says registered dietitian Jessica Miller. “Depression, like many chronic diseases we face, is tied to inflammation in our body – that puffiness we often feel is happening even at a cell level, and it severely impacts our health. The American diet is filled with foods that negatively impact how our brain works, but many delicious foods are anti-inflammatory and can reverse the damage, such as fish and shellfish.”

Seafood Is Brain Food

Fish is like a multivitamin for your brain. Fish is more than just an excellent source of lean protein and essential omega-3s, it provides other vitamins and minerals important for mental health. The nutrients that tend to be low in people who are depressed – vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc – are found in fish. If you are looking to try adding some fish to your diet check out this sheet pan trout recipe.

Omega-3 is Powerhouse

Omega-3 fatty acids  play fundamental roles in the development, functioning, and aging of the brain. Fatty acids are the organic compounds that are most abundantly present in the brain. The highly diverse composition of the fatty acids in the brain is associated with the evolution of higher cognitive abilities in primates. (2) The link between omega-3  and depression stems from numerous studies examining depression rates across countries and diets.  Populations that contain a higher proportion of fish – a rich source of omega-3 EFAs – in their diet have lower rates of depression.  

Fighting Depression

Depression is considered the most widespread disease that we face (3) There are a wide variety of symptoms that you suffer from depression including anxiety, feelings of lethargy, irritability, fatigue, loss of interest in daily activities, and loss of pleasure activities. And depression isn’t impacted by age, sex, race, income level or lifestyle status. It impacts people in all of these areas. 

Over the past 20 years, dozens of studies evaluating more than 20,000 cases of depression have shown eating 2-3 servings of fish per week and/or consuming omega-3 fish oil supplements significantly reduces risk for major depression. Here is a resource on how Fish is Brain Food.

Just Eating Healthy

We realize that eating fish several times a week is not for everyone. Eating whole foods and an overall plant-based diet is the another way to maximize the intake of mood-boosting foods. Research suggests eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains can lower your risk for depression by fighting inflammation. (4) Many whole foods can provide anti-inflammatory and antidepressant effects, which is good. But research is early and we still do not understand the precise mechanism by which they do this. What we do know though is that foods that drive inflammation like processed flour and sugar do impact our mood (ever experience a sugar high).

For those struggling with mental health, more resources are available at the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, or contact their hotline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).

(1) N-3 (Omega-3) Fatty Acids in Postpartum Depression: Implications for Prevention and Treatment
(2) Organization and Evolution of Brain Lipidome Revealed by Large-Scale Analysis of Human, Chimpanzee, Macaque, and Mouse Tissues
(3) Omega-3 fatty acids and the treatment of depression: a review of scientific evidence
(4) Associations between nutrition and the incidence of depression in middle-aged and older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational population-based studies

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