Brain Food: How Eating Right Helps Depression and Anxiety

Brain Food: How Eating Right Helps Depression and Anxiety

Foods to boost mental health
A healthy diet is key to a healthy mind. Here are some great foods that may boost your mental health.

You hear it all the time – “You are what you eat.” Well, as it turns out, that’s not so far from the truth. Because of this, it’s crucial to eat healthily. When medication or therapy alone isn’t enough for your mental health, adjusting your lifestyle can give you the edge you need. If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, certain foods may help ameliorate your symptoms. SSDA USA is here with some of the best foods to boost mental health.


Probiotics are microorganisms that improve gut health by encouraging the production of good bacteria and other beneficial gut flora. But what does the gut have to do with mental health?

Well, interestingly enough, what you eat can influence your mental health via the gut-brain axis. The gut has a complex network that communicates with the brain for many purposes, some of which include to regulate mood and to alert the brain of immune system problems.

Because probiotics encourage the growth of “good” microorganisms, it’s important to get plenty of them to ensure excellent gut and brain health. For instance,
the gut produces approximately 95% of the body’s serotonin, a feel-good chemical. This means that many problems with mood are related to one’s diet. According to a recent study, the consumption of foods rich with probiotics is inversely related to symptoms of depression.

Additionally, according to one study, certain types of probiotics could potentially help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, too. Conclusive research demonstrated that Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a probiotic bacteria, helped reduce symptoms of anxiety in rodents exposed to stressful situations. However, the study found no conclusive evidence regarding human subjects. While scientists must conduct more research, the available data certainly looks promising.

Therefore, to help reduce symptoms of depression (in addition to potentially reducing symptoms of anxiety), you may want to eat plenty of fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt, all of which are rich in probiotics. Also, some cheeses, certain olives, and miso are good sources of probiotics. We suggest speaking with a certified nutritionist or registered dietician for the most well-rounded understanding of which foods would be best for you.


When the body comes into contact with certain stressful or environmental conditions, the body produces free radicals. Free radicals occur when oxygen molecules split into single atoms that have no paired electrons. Because of this, such atoms constantly seek electrons to pair with, and they end up attacking the body’s cells and DNA. Free radicals have been linked to central-nervous system diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and genetic degenerative diseases, and other conditions.

Ultimately, antioxidants help guard against free radicals.

Antioxidants also cover a broad range of substances found in many different foods, and each antioxidant reacts with the body in different ways. Vitamin A, for example, can help vision and kidney health. Vitamin C helps the body repair damaged tissues and aids the immune system. There are many other antioxidants, too, such as beta-carotene (found in carrots), selenium (found in mushrooms and seafood), and manganese (found in certain nuts).

Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that there is a link between antioxidants and mental health. When used in conjunction with medication, antioxidants have the potential to lower severity of anxiety. Other studies have shown that antioxidant levels are lower in adults that suffer from depression, and that raising antioxidant levels helps symptoms fade.

There are many foods that have antioxidants. Some foods with high amounts of antioxidants include dark chocolate, certain fruits (strawberries, blueberries, etc.), leafy greens (cabbage), fish, and beans.


Long chains of amino acids form together to create proteins, essential components in the body’s function. Proteins help regulate muscle mass and metabolism, and are necessary for life. Additionally, protein helps regulate satiety and mood. Because of this, proteins can be some of the best foods to boost mental health.

Proteins are so important to mental health because the neurotransmitters required for brain function come from the amino acids that make up protein. Tyrosine is a component of dopamine, an important part of the reward system. Tryptophan helps synthesize serotonin, an important part of mood regulation. Low levels of either of these neurotransmitters can make depression and anxiety worse.

It makes sense that to help regulate your mood, you should regulate your protein intake. Studies have shown that high-protein snacks can help aid mood and enhance cognition. Moreover, protein (whey protein, especially) helps lower the body’s level of cortisol, thereby diminishing the effects of the body’s main stress hormone.

Various different proteins are abundant in different types of foods. It’s important to consume the nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are necessary amino acids that the body cannot make on its own. When a protein contains all nine amino acids, that protein is called a complete protein.

Foods that contain complete proteins include meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs. Incomplete proteins are in certain vegetables, grains, nuts/seeds, and beans/legumes. If you’re vegetarian/vegan and cannot get your complete proteins from animal products, try combining grains with vegetables, or nuts with legumes.

Healthy Fats

Not all fat is bad! Your body requires healthy fats in order to survive. However, it’s important to know which fats to consume and which ones to stay away from.

Unsaturated fats are healthier for the body than saturated and trans fats. The two types of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.

One important type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are called essential amino acids because they are required to survive and are not made by the body. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to bolster heart health, lower triglycerides, lower bad cholesterol, and even lower severity of depression. This is probably because omega-3 fatty acids are quite literally a part of cell membranes, so it makes sense that they’re crucial in regulating mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in seafood, e.g. oily fish such as salmon.

Monounsaturated fats are crucial, as well. They help regulate weight, reduce the risk of certain diseases, have some anti-inflammatory properties, and can help regulate mood and reduce anger. In fact, replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats correlated with fewer instances of depression. You can find monounsaturated fats in nuts, oils, seeds, avocados, and eggs.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the way to go when it comes to the type of fat you consume. Trans fats and saturated fats are less healthy. For instance, while trans fats are technically unsaturated, they contribute to high levels of bad cholesterol, low levels of good cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. Saturated fats could potentially be worse. With enough saturated fats, the brain’s dopamine signaling is disrupted. This significantly impairs proper mood regulation and may contribute to problems with depression and anxiety.

So, try to eat more unsaturated fats, and limit your intake of trans fats and saturated fats. Not all fats are created equal, so know what you’re eating to stay healthy and boost your mental health. Further, speaking with a certified nutritionist or registered dietician would be a great resource to help you put together a meal plan best for your body type.

Healthy Sugars

Just as there are healthy and unhealthy fats, there are healthy and unhealthy sugars, too. The key thing to be mindful of is if the sugar in your food is natural or added. Natural sugars occur organically in foods like fruits, milk, and other unprocessed foods. When you consume such foods, you get naturally occurring sugar with essential vitamins and minerals along with fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents blood sugar spikes.

Added sugars, however, are worse for your health. Foods with added sugars often have vitamins, minerals, and fiber stripped away. This means that your bloodstream absorbs sugars more quickly, leading to blood sugar spikes.

Long-term elevated blood sugar levels correlate with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, nervous system problems, vision problems, cardiovascular problems, and other serious conditions. In fact, high levels of sugar intake are linked with increased risk of depression and reduced ability to learn and form new memories.

Therefore, monitor your sugar intake. Get your sugar from natural sources, and avoid foods and drinks that have added sugars. While soda and candy are sweet to eat, the negative impacts they have on your health are quite unsavory to think about.

Need Help Managing Your Disability Benefits?

While eating healthy is important for managing your disability, it can be difficult to do so without the right medical and financial resources. If you need help acquiring social security disability benefits, contact Social Security Disability Advocates USA today! Our attorneys work hard to help ensure your initial application or appeal meet the designated requirements set by the Social Security Administration.

You can reach us anytime at 602-952-3200. Additionally, you can fill out an online form or take advantage of our LiveChat feature to get in touch with us. Don’t keep your social security questions to yourself. Contact SSDA USA today!

This is attorney advertising. SSDA, LLC is a group of attorneys that pursues claims for Social Security Disability benefits on behalf of its clients against the Social Security Administration. SSDA, LLC is in no way a part of the Social Security Administration. Further, the information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, a representative-client relationship.

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