These Foods Will Help You Fight Depression — and They’re Not What You’d Expect

Depression is at an all-time high, and the burden of dreary winter weather won’t do you any favors. The sun sets before you leave the office, temperatures drop drastically, and it’s far more enticing to curl up with some comfort food than to focus on your diet.

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Roshini Raj, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist, offered her tips on some of the lesser-known depression-fighting foods. They may not be your usual dietary staples, however each offers nutritious, mood-boosting properties. One, in particular, is definitely hiding somewhere in your cabinet, and will likely surprise you (page 6).

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut in black bowl Sauerkraut is full of probiotics which can help improve your mood. | iStock.com

Sauerkraut, a common German side dish, has particular benefits specific to how it’s made. Fermenting cabbage to make sauerkraut creates conditions that promote the growth of beneficial probiotics. As a result, the salty side dish can actually help your mental state and ward off depression.

“Fermented, probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut contribute to the creation of a healthy gut flora, which research shows may help reduce stress and maintain brain health … [it] may also maintain brain health by increasing your gut’s absorption of mood-regulating minerals, including magnesium and zinc,” Healthline said.

Yogurt

young beautiful woman eating yogurt at home The probiotics in yogurt are known to help with memory. | iStock.com/Nensuria

Yogurt is another food filled with probiotics that is delicious, nutritious, and good for your mental health. Along with the benefits listed for sauerkraut, probiotics have been found to help improve memory and lower symptoms of anxiety, depression, autism and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

A study out of the Leiden Institute of Brain and Cognition in the Netherlands found that probiotics may aid in mood improvement. This would make eating probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, a good way to fight depression.

Shrimp

Delicious sauteed shrimp People who eat more fish compared to meat are known to have a lower risk of depression. | Fudio/iStock/Getty Images

Eating seafood twice a week is associated with lower risk of depression and suicide, Raj found. Studies, like the one in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that people who eat the most fish had a significantly lower risk of depression than those who ate the least.

Lean protein sources like shrimp help keep your serotonin levels balanced as well. Serotonin is an important chemical neurotransmitter in your body that researchers credit responsible for maintaining mood balance. A serotonin deficit can lead to depression.

Oatmeal and brown rice

Brown Basmati Rice Probiotics thrive on fiber. | vm2002/iStock/Getty Images

Whole grains like brown rice and steel-cut oatmeal are full of fiber, which Probiotics thrive on. This is because fiber travels through your small intestine without breaking down and reaches your colon. There, probiotics — the good bacteria — can feed on the fiber. According to Raj, “thriving probiotics = thriving serotonin.”

A study published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, found that people who ate more fiber from cereals like oatmeal actually experienced a lower risk of age-related disabilities, including cognitive problems and depressive tendencies.

Dark meat chicken and turkey

spicy chicken legs Dark meat has more iron in it. | iStock.com/Lilechka75

When you think of lean protein options, you usually opt for white meat rather than dark. White meat has less fat than its darker counterpart, so most diets will recommend it without considering the dark meat’s nutritious value.

However, it’s the poultry’s dark meat that packs depression-fighting nutrients like iron. According to Raj, the iron in the dark meat of chickens and turkeys will help give you the energy you need to be more active throughout the day, as well as beat any seasonal lethargy. Add a little dark meat to the menu, but if you still want to watch your weight, opt to eat it skinless and lightly seasoned.

Popcorn and pretzels

Popcorn falling out of bowl There is nothing wrong with enjoying carbohydrates in moderation. | iStock.com

Most diets will tell you to avoid carbohydrates at all costs, without explaining the benefits that carbs (in moderation) can offer. Snacks high in carbohydrates, like popcorn and pretzels, increase your serotonin, the “feel-good chemical” in your brain.

Popcorn is notably high in the amino acid tryptophan. According to Psychology Today, Tryptophan achieves its calming effects by way of serotonin, which plays a key role in regulating mood. “Among other functions, serotonin promotes feelings of calm, relaxation, and sleepiness. Lack of serotonin is associated with depression.”

About Dr. Roshini Raj and Lose It!

Dr. <strong>Roshini Raj portrait</strong> Dr. Roshini Raj portrait | DrRoshiniRaj.com

Raj wears multiple hats; certified gastroenterologist, Good Day NY medical correspondent, and Lose It! advisory board member. She donated her knowledge and tips about depression-fighting foods to Lose It!, a food-tracking app that encourages users to set a goal, track their progress, and rely on and support community members in weight loss motivation.

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