Depression & Diet

British Dietetic Association

This Food Fact Sheet will look at how following a healthy diet can help protect your mental health.

Eat regular meals

Eating regular meals can help your brain work at its best. Unlike other organs, your brain relies on a steady supply of glucose as its primary fuel. This comes mostly from starchy carbohydrates. Aim to eat little and often to keep your mood at its best.

Get the right balance of fats

Our brains are made of around 50 per cent fat, and our cells need fats to maintain their structures. So, you need a good supply of fats to keep your brain healthy. 

Try to keep a moderate intake of unsaturated fat and omega-3 in your diet, to ensure your brain is well nourished. Olive oil or rapeseed oil are great for cooking. Add nuts and seeds, and use olive or nut oil dressings on salads. 

Try to decrease trans-fats as these seem to be harmful to brain structure and function (as well as heart health). Trans fats are found in processed and packaged foods, such as processed meats, ready meals, pre-packed cakes and biscuits. Instead, try to cook from scratch and use fresh foods whenever you can.

Choose more wholegrains and fruit and vegetables

Wholegrain cereals, peas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are rich in a range of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function well. They also digest slowly, helping to provide a slow and steady glucose supply to your brain and body.

These foods are also rich in B vitamins (including folate) and zinc. Recent evidence suggests that these nutrients are important in managing depression. Try to eat at least five different fruits and vegetables daily to get a range of different vitamins and minerals.

Include some protein at every meal

Protein contains tryptophan. Research suggests that consuming it may help with depression. Good sources include fish, poultry, eggs and game, but some green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), pulses and seeds are also a source. Eating protein as part of a 'little and often' eating plan can also help prevent overeating.

Include oily fish in your diet

Some researchers think that omega-3 oils, found in oily fish, may also help with depression. Aim for at least two portions of oily fish per week. Oily fish include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and trout.

You can find out more about including omega-3 in your diet, including if you do not eat fish, in our Omega-3 Food Fact Sheet.

Everyday tips

  • Start the day with breakfast, such as wholegrain cereal with milk and fruit, multigrain toast with a poached egg, or fruit with yoghurt. Have no more than 150ml of fresh fruit juice or smoothie to drink.
  • Include some starchy food (such as boiled potatoes, rice, pasta, and granary or multigrain breads) at lunch and dinner. If you are short of time, then go for a sandwich or jacket potato (filled with fish or low fat cheese and salad) or even a bowl of cereal and some fruit.
  • Between meals include snacks such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, yoghurts, and oatcakes or crackers with low fat cheese, meat or fish.

What to drink?

Even slight dehydration may affect your mood. Since we know that a healthy brain contains up to 78 per cent water, it makes sense to drink plenty. Aim for around six to eight glasses (about 1.5 - 2 litres) fluid per day to stay well hydrated.

Caffeine can affect your mood. It can also lead to withdrawal headaches and to low or irritable mood when the effects wear off. Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, cola, energy drinks, tea and chocolate, should be limited. Other non-caffeinated drinks, such as fruit squash, lemonade or herbal teas are good alternatives.  

Drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration and can lead to B vitamin deficiencies, which may make you more depressed or anxious. Limit your intake to no more than two to three drinks on no more than five days per week. It is however important to remember that alcohol itself is a depressant and may contribute towards depression or make your symptoms worse.

This is because alcohol affects the chemistry of our brain and also affects other aspects of our life including relationships with others and routines. It may be best to avoid alcohol altogether and instead choose some of the other drinks mentioned above.    

I am gaining/losing too much weight. What should I do?

Changes to your body can sometimes affect your mental health. Start by asking your doctor to review any medicines you are taking. Some can affect your appetite and a change may help you to manage your weight. 

If you have unplanned weight loss, you may be at risk of malnutrition and you should ask to see a dietitian for further advice. 

Summary

  • Eat regularly throughout the day to make sure your brain has a steady supply of energy. Include starchy carbohydrates, protein and vegetables or salad at each meal.
  • Choose wholegrains, pulses, beans, lentils, and fruit and vegetables. Minimise processed/packaged foods and instead eat a variety of the items listed above to get a range of different vitamins and minerals. 
  • Eat a good balance of healthy fats to maintain the cell structure of your brain. Include oily fish (omega-3 fatty acids) and unsaturated fats in your diet.
  • Drink plenty of fluid (six to eight glasses non-caffeinated drinks) to keep hydrated and allow your brain to work as best as it can.

Useful resources

This includes: Raising awareness of depression and Aware NI services at a wide range of...
AMH EveryBODY aims to promote greater understanding and awareness of eating disorders. We...
Mindfulness is a form of meditation with its roots in Buddhism. It helps you develop...
Link & Learns are bite size, topical learning sessions for your employees, delivered...
Tailored activities to support positive mental health and emotional wellbeing. MensSana,...
AMH Works provide specialised mental wellbeing training and consultancy to tackle...
Mood Matters Young People programme is aimed at 14-18 year olds and gives them knowledge...
It is estimated that the overall prevalence of mental health conditions in Northern...
Free access to eBooks, audiobooks and eMagazines - available to download on your device...
Positive Minds for Premature Parents supports families of premature babies to develop and...
Everyone’s mental health and emotional well-being is important and many different issues...
Since 2010 Action Mental Health has been successfully delivering Chronic Pain/Conditions...
The British Red Cross is helping people connect with their local communities, meet new...
MindWise are proud to be the only membership-led mental health organisation in Northern...
CBT involves examining your thoughts, feelings and behaviour patterns, and working out...
Be Mindful is an online course that uses mindfulness techniques like meditation,...
We have a wealth of experience in delivering training and consultancy services to a wide...
This supportive behaviour change programme motivates individuals who are ready to make...
Our team of facilitators have extensive knowledge and experience in the field of Mental...
Advanced Diploma in Mental Health and Wellbeing Coaching This virtual training programme...
Our Talking Therapies Practice offers individuals a range of psychological interventions...
Clinical hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis for the treatment and alleviation of a...
We’ve gathered useful advice, information and help for young people aged 8-25 and those...
A partnership, led by AMH, who worked with 8 leading charities to improve mental health...
WiseTalking is a pilot Talking Therapies service for children and young people who are...
This programme is a six week training programme for groups of adults and focuses on...
This idea is a walk in the park. It really is that simple, post a news item to see how...
You must download the Libby app to continue to access the eMagazine and eNewspaper...
Helping employees become more resilient, by giving them the skills to reframe negative...
AWARE also offers an online support group service. The groups provide an opportunity to...
Action Mental Health is one of the ChatPal Project Team Members working to develop and...
This is aimed at the over 55’s and is delivered to groups in community settings. The...
This is a six-session programme using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) concepts – the...
AMH New Horizons provides a comprehensive programme of specialist training in: Personal...
First aid as we know it is the help given to an injured person before medical treatment...
Stress doesn’t just make you feel bad – it can also be bad for your health. The good news...
A project for men aged 50+ to share skills, socialise and connect with their wider...
AMH Promote provides opportunities for adults with a learning disability to be socially...
This is delivered to expectant mothers & parents of babies under 3 years of age. It...
Counselling is a form of talking therapy that allows you to speak openly about your...
From books and magazines to local history resources, Libraries NI has a host of fabulous...
Back to Life, Back to Normality is a free 12-week mental health programme delivered by...
Well mind is a workshop which focuses on recognising the triggers of stress and the...
Bloom is a UK-wide programme which supports young people’s mental health resilience,...
The Community Care and Support Service is open to individuals over the age of 18 years...
Belfast Resource Centre offers many opportunities including social and leisure activities...
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), developed by Professor Paul Gilbert OBE, is a...
Sourcing and supporting employment opportunities, training and/or voluntary placements...
Supporting veterans at risk of suicide across Northern Ireland. Exposure to line of duty...
Beyond Bricks is Lego® Based Play that uses a 'recovery to discovery' approach to enhance...
There are a number of health campaigns throughout the year to raise awareness of...
This is delivered to the general adult population, including those affected by depression...
Libraries NI can provide a free Homecall service to your home if you have significant...
Anxiety can affect anyone at any time, however, students often experience additional...
Our support groups offer a safe space for people aged 18+ to share experiences of anxiety...
AMH New Life Counselling provides high quality counselling services and is part of Action...
The OUR Generation project is a Peace IV funded project that provides a unique...
MindWise is delighted to offer employers an opportunity to train their staff as Mental...

Helplines & Web Chats

Samaritans
Action Mental Health
Association for Post-Natal Illness Helpline
Aware NI - Support Groups
Aware NI - Online Support Groups
Mind - Side by Side Online Community