Can a Poor Diet Cause Depression Symptoms?

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A great amount of research shows that diet has significant influence on mental health and more specifically the occurrence of mental health disorders. Knowing how diet influences depression and understanding the basics of a diet focused on mental health can help alleviate symptoms and improve mental wellness.

Dealing with Depression

Depression is a pervasive mental health disorder that causes many significant and oftentimes debilitating. Some of the most common symptoms of depression are sadness, anxiety, lack of motivation, loss of appetite, malaise, and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. Because of this, many practitioners rely solely on antidepressants and other medications that attempt to resolve specific areas of dysfunction. Sadly, this approach does not attend to underlying issues and overlooks or discounts other importance factors of depression such as diet.

Fueling Neurotransmitters with Healthy Foods

An essential element of mental wellness is proper balance of neurotransmitters. These chemicals are responsible for the transfer of information to and from various regions of the brain. A deficiency of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, is closely associated with depression. In order to produce essential neurotransmitters, the body must be supplied with the appropriate nutrients. Many neurotransmitters are synthesized from amino acids found in protein-rich foods such as meats, fish, dairy, and eggs. A diet lacking these types of nutrients may experience a deficiency of amino acids such as tyrosine and tryptophan. This results in poor production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which can trigger symptoms such as moodiness, sadness, and other signs of depression.

The Diet and Depression Connection

Depression frequently causes patients to adapt poor eating habits. Some of the most common dietary patterns seen in patients with depression include reduced appetite, skipping meals, and consuming a greater volume of sugary foods or sweets. These poor dietary practices can contribute significantly to the development or continuation of depression.

Diet may be an indicator of your risk for depression. Studies show that individuals who have diets containing large amounts of processed meat, chocolates, fried foods, refined cereals, refined sugars, butter, potatoes, and high-fat dairy products are more likely to experience symptoms of depression. Conversely, multiple studies show that diets containing a high volume of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants, and lower intake of animal products are associated with reduced occurrence of depression. Because of the significant influence it has on mental wellness, improving diet may be very helpful in treating and alleviating symptoms of depression.

The Mental Health Diet

Many consider diet to be primarily concerned with weight management or muscle building. However, nutrition is actually an important component of every aspect of health including mental wellness. Consuming an excess of certain foods can negatively affect mental wellness and increase the risk of depression. Fortunately, it is possible to support mental health goals, much like weight management goals, by following an appropriate diet.

Designing and following a diet focused on mental wellness differs slightly from a typical diet focused on weight management. Regarding mental health, the caloric restraints of a diet are less important than the type and quality of the food consumed. Of course, it is important to regulate caloric intake but for those suffering from depression or other mood disorders, the more immediate goal should be to normalize brain function by eating the right types of food. After mood has stabilized, then the diet can be changed and optimized for weight regulation and other health goals.

A balanced diet is critical for healthy neurological activity because many of the essential chemicals and compounds in the body come from the foods we eat. Following a diet specifically for mental health can support neurological activity, alleviate mood disorders, and reduce symptoms of depression. Consuming more of certain foods while eliminating or reducing intake of others supports healthy neurological and may even lead to remission of mood disorders.

There are many foods containing a rich-supply of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that support the brain. Incorporating more of the following foods into your diet can help balance neurological activity and aid in mood regulation.

  • Antioxidants found in blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, apples
  • B Vitamins found in eggs, meat, poultry, fish, oysters, milk, whole grains, avocados
  • Fruits
  • Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish, nuts and seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, almonds
  • Protein-rich foods such as poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, legumes
  • Selenium found in whole grains, nuts, seafood, organ meats
  • Vegetables
  • Vitamin D found in salmon, tuna, mackerel
  • Zinc found in whole grains, oysters, beans, nuts

Eliminating certain substances from your diet may also alleviate stress on the brain and improve neurological function. If you are suffering from symptoms of depression, try to limit consumption of the following foods:

  • Alcohol
  • Butter
  • Caffeine
  • Candy
  • Chocolates
  • Fried foods
  • High-fat dairy products
  • Potatoes
  • Processed foods
  • Processed oils
  • Refined foods
  • Sweets

Eating Your Way to Better Mental Health

Diet plays a critical role in regulating many factors of mental wellness. Therefore, proper nutrition is an important component to consider when treating mood disorders such as depression. By improving your diet, you actively support neurological function, which helps regulate mood, bolster mental health, and improve symptoms of depression. Although more research is needed to uncover the definitive link between diet and depression, it is clear that making positive lifestyle changes such as optimizing diet can provide significant support of individual mental health. Our Nutritional and Health Coach can help you start following a mental health diet to support the brain and improve your mood.


1. Monique Tello, MD, MPH. “Diet and depression.” Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School.

2. Felice N. Jacka, Adrienne O’Neil, Rachelle Opie, Catherine Itsiopoulos, Sue Cotton, Mohammedreza Mohebbi, David Castle, Sarah Dash, Cathrine Mihalopoulos, Mary Lou Chatterton, Laima Brazionis, Olivia M. Dean, Allison M. Hodge and Michael Berk. “A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial).” BMC Medicine 2017 15:23.

3. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. “Junk food blues: Are depression and diet related?” Mayo Clinic.

4. T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao, M. R. Asha, B. N. Ramesh, and K. S. Jagannatha Rao. “Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses.” Indian J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun; 50(2): 77–82.

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