7 Foods That Can Help Reduce Depression and Anxiety (and 3 That Will Trigger It)

If you're down in the dumps, have low energy, can't sleep and feel just plain anxious, you may be tempted take the day off and binge watch your favorite show on the couch. Before giving in to your temporary depression and anxiety, try switching up your diet to boost some good mood feelings. Certain foods may naturally make you happier, but there are some that can make your depression and anxiety worse, so choose wisely.

Sipping on some golden milk can help ease anxiety. Credit: gojak/iStock/GettyImages

If your depression and anxiety last more than two weeks, are more than just the blues and are affecting your day-to-day activities and you have feelings of hopelessness, talk to your doctor, a close friend, or a faith advisor as soon as you can. Depression and anxiety can be treated.

Read more: 8 Warning Signs of Depression You Shouldn't Ignore

Foods to Help Improve Mood

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) indicates that depression symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms such as trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, loss of energy, increased fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and feeling sad may be improved with foods that contain specific nutrients.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that occasional anxiety is normal, and can include symptoms such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feelings of restlessness, and muscle tension.

Brighten your day and your mood with lemons. Credit: wmaster890/iStock/GettyImages

1. Lemons

Vitamin C has high concentrations in the brain. The juice of one lemon will give you approximately 25 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C. A recent 2018 study published in Antioxidants found that study subjects with the highest plasma concentrations of vitamin C in their body had elevated moods. The authors state several reasons for this.

Vitamin C may play a role in the production of dopamine and serotonin in the body, which are two neurotransmitters that anti-depressant medications focus on elevating. There are also higher levels of oxidative stress in those with depression and the anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin C may be able to help that.

2. Dark Chocolate

If you are having difficulty concentrating or remembering things due to depressed mood or anxiety, dark chocolate may be able to help. An article in Psychology Today suggests looking for chocolate that is at least 85 percent cocoa.

An article published in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology indicates the flavanoids in chocolate are responsible for promoting memory and cognitive function. The authors also indicate chocolate itself may help improve mood by interacting with the release of endorphins, which can produce feelings of happiness. They also suggest that the simple act of eating chocolate can make a person feel happier.

3. Golden Milk

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its signature golden color and is also the spice added to a trendy latte in your local coffee shop, called called golden milk. Golden milk is a delivery system to get a little more turmeric in your diet and it may help you feel less anxious. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to reduce inflammation and reduce pain.

A 2017 review article published in Foods indicated the possibility of curcumin having an anti-anxiety effect, mainly because of its anti-inflammatory properties. They also indicated that regular intakes of curcumin helped improve working memory and mood. It's important to note that larger, medically supervised doses of curcumin were given to study subjects, but enjoying a little turmeric everyday may help.

Read more: 10 Natural Herbs and Supplements to Help Calm Anxiety

Walnuts are good for your heart and for your mood. Credit: margouillatphotos/iStock/GettyImages

4. Walnuts

Harvard Medical School indicates that countries with a larger intake of foods with omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of depression. When looking at the benefit of omega-3s with depression, most studies have used omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with medication for depression. Research is ongoing and also looking at the benefit of omega-3 and vitamin D on fighting depression.

Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts and fish may be good for children and adolescents with depression. One ounce, or about 10 walnut halves, will give you 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Adults should aim for 1.1 to 1.6 grams per day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

5. Oranges

Folate is a B vitamin that gets a lot of attention for preventing the development of neural tube defects during pregnancy. More lesser known is the connection between folate and depression.

According to Harvard Medical School, folate helps break down the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to depression. A one-half cup of orange juice provides 25 to 39 micrograms of folate, with a recommended daily amount of 400 micrograms for adults.

The smell of citrus fruits is also being studied for its effects on mood. A 2016 study published in Frontiers in Psychology cited research where the smell of orange reduced anxiety of patients at a dental office. The authors note that if you perceive an odor to be pleasant, it may help lower anxiety.

Read more: 10 Best Anti-Anxiety Apps That Will Help You De-Stress

6. Mushrooms

The Vitamin D Council makes the case for a strong link between low vitamin D status and incidence of depression. The research is not clear on whether or not low vitamin D is a cause for depression or whether depression causes low vitamin D. Either way, most Americans are deficient and lack of vitamin D, and lack of sunshine aiding in the production of vitamin D may be one of the reasons for depression.

There are not a lot of foods that contain vitamin D, but mushrooms do, if labeled as having been exposed to ultraviolet light. Three ounces of mushrooms can provide over 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D, according to the Mushroom Council.

7. Cashews

Do you know if you're getting enough zinc? Recent research published in Frontiers in Pharmacology indicate that zinc may reduce depressive symptoms. A 2018 review article published in published in Nutrients also concluded there is a relationship between low zinc levels and increased symptoms of depression.

Cashews have 1.6 milligrams per one once serving, about a handful, which is 11 percent of your daily value. Other sources of zinc include fortified cereals, pork, and chickpeas.

Best to steer clear of super sugary treats if you struggle with anxiety or depression. Credit: bfk92/iStock/GettyImages

Trigger Food #1: Candy

If you are prone to symptoms of depression or anxiety, you may want to steer clear of the sweet stuff. Research published in Scientific Reports links higher sugar consumption with depressive mood.

There is no indication of the threshold of sugar intake to trigger depression or anxiety. It is not clear if eating more sugar causes depression or if depression symptoms make you eat more sugar.

Either way, excessive sugar consumption has been linked to chronic inflammation. Previous research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also linked a diet high in added sugars to depressive symptoms.

Trigger Food #2: Coffee

For most people, caffeine in the morning, in the form of coffee has the intended effect. It wakes you up, keeps you alert, and is part of a routine. If you have too much caffeine, it can have some serious side effects, to include anxiety, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

A recent article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry indicate that for those with a history of anxiety, even moderate doses of caffeine can trigger further anxious feelings. Other side effects from caffeine consumption can include restlessness, insomnia, headaches, and shakiness. Experts at Medline Plus recommend keeping caffeine to under 400 milligrams per day, or approximately three 8-ounce cups of coffee.

Read more: 10 Habits Keeping You Depressed (and How to Break Them)

Trigger Food #3: Alcohol

If you enjoy one or two drinks nightly and do not feel sad or lonely, alcohol may not trigger depression symptoms. However, according to Harvard Medical School, consequences of excessive alcohol intake include a higher risk for depression and anxiety.

This is especially true for adolescents between the ages of 14 to 20, according to Substance Abuse and Misuse. Alcohol, by definition, is a central nervous system depressant, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is not a stimulant, like commonly thought, because it causes sedation and drowsiness.

When to Call a Doctor About Your Depression and Anxiety

The American Psychiatric Association urges you to see a doctor if you have depression symptoms for more than two weeks. Thoughts of hopelessness, loss of energy, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest or pleasure, feeling sad, and thoughts of suicide that linger are all signals you should seek medical treatment.

There are several types of anxiety disorders and many people experience anxiety at some point in their life. The APA indicates that anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder. Anxiety is fear or anticipation of a future event. For a diagnosed anxiety disorder, the fear must be out of proportion to the situation or it is impacting your ability to function normally. If this sounds like you, then see your doctor, anxiety and depression are treatable conditions.

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