Food and Mood - The Role of Diet in Depression and Low Mood


Jaime Rose Chambers

Many factors are involved and can contribute to depression or low mood. It may be genetic and some people may be at higher risk, or circumstantial such as stressors at work or a break up of a relationship. It may also be due to a serious medical condition or drug and alcohol use. Recently researchers have also confirmed the importance of diet as a component of mental health, proving that there is a strong link between what we eat and our risk of depression. 

The difficulty is that when we’re not feeling great, accessing healthy food can be difficult or just not a priority. It’s also common to use food to make us feel better, and it’s not usually healthy food – often referred to as ‘comfort food’. So if you’re feeling low, it’s not always easy to start to turn your diet around.  

There isn’t necessarily a ‘diet’ for mental health, rather a dietary pattern that involves eating more foods that are associated with a decrease risk of depression, and eating less foods that are associated with an increased risk of depression. However the dietary pattern that is most commonly associated with reducing the risk of depression is the Mediterranean Diet. 

Studies have found that there is an association between inflammation and brain or mental health and that the Mediterranean diet pattern can reduce inflammation, where as a poor diet can stimulate inflammation. A poor diet was also likely to contribute to nutritional deficiencies, and that following a healthy diet provided nutrients to ensure the normal functioning of the brain. 

Foods to eat to reduce your risk of depression: 

  • Fresh and frozen fruit 

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables 

  • Wholegrains such as rolled oats, wholegrain bread and crackers, brown rice, quinoa, barley 

  • Oily fish – salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines 

  • Other lean protein sources – chicken, turkey, other fish and seafood, eggs, tofu, tempeh 

  • Bean or pulses – such as chickpeas, red kidney beans, lentils 

  • Extra virgin olive oil – you can have this raw on salads and it is also completely safe to use in all cooking except for deep frying 

  • Low fat dairy products – milk, cheese, yoghurt 

Foods to avoid to reduce your risk of depression: 

  • High intake of red meat  - such as beef, veal, lamb, kangaroo 

  • High intake of processed meat – such as salami, sausages, frankfurters, bacon 

  • Refined grains – anything made from white flour such as white breads, wraps, noodles, pasta 

  • Sweets – such as lollies, biscuits, muffins, cakes 

  • High fat dairy foods – such as butter 

  • Processed vegetables oils including palm oil – found in fast foods and many processed packaged snack foods 

  • Excessive amounts of alcohol. 

*small portions of good quality, lean red meat should be ok but intake is personal and dependent on a number of factors so check with your doctor or dietitian for specific advice 

It’s important to note that in some cases, a change it diet is not enough to improve the mental health of some people and that seeking the help of medical professionals for medication and/ or counselling may be necessary. 

Jaime Rose Chambers

Please note: Jaime's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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