Brain Health Is Critical, and These Foods Might Help

Scientists say some foods can help combat depression

The Lempert Report

There are foods that scientists think we should be consuming to help combat depression, which now affects over 300 million people worldwide. Some groups may be more at-risk than others; in the United States alone, 3.2 million of teenagers between the age of 12 and 17 experience depressive episodes. And these numbers are on the rise.

Diet may reduce symptoms of depression. In a 2015 study, scientists advocated that nutrition and diet be routinely incorporated into future psychiatric clinical practice.

“Everyone, every medical provider, should be talking about food. It is such an important part of our daily life and our health,” Samantha Elkrief, a therapist and health coach, told Inverse in an interview.

The findings of a comprehensive 2019 analysis of 15 studies, including more than 45,000 participants, suggest that diet does reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.  

So what foods are good for fighting depression? Foods with high nutrient counts, such as fruit and vegetables, fish and whole grains. A study of over 10,000 Spanish students found that the Mediterranean diet (which includes vegetables, fruit and nuts, cereal, legumes and fish) may reduce risk of depression. The Mediterranean diet may also help fight off various brain diseases. The findings were corroborated by similar studies on diets in Japan, Norway and China.

Elkrief's colleagues Laura LaChance and Drew Ramsey, from Columbia University, developed an antidepressant food score, which was published in the World Journal of Psychiatry.

They identified 12 antidepressant nutrients among 34 essential nutrients, including iron, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamins A, B and C, and zinc.

These nutrients either decrease neuroinflammation, which may cause depression, or increase neuroplasticity and resilience, which may help enable people to bounce back from a depressive episode.

Foods with the highest levels of these nutrients scored highest on the antidepressant food score. Here are the top 10 in both plant-based foods and animal-based foods:


  1. Watercress: 127%
  2. Spinach: 97%
  3. Mustard, turnip or beet greens: 76%-93%
  4. Lettuces (red, green, romaine): 74%-99%
  5. Swiss chard: 90%
  6. Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, or parsley): 73%-75%
  7. Chicory greens: 74%
  8. Pummelo: 69%
  9. Peppers (bell, serrano, or jalapeno): 39%-56%
  10. Kale or collards: 48%-62%


  1. Oyster: 56%
  2. Liver and organ meats: 18%-38%
  3. Poultry giblets: 31%
  4. Clam: 30%
  5. Mussels: 28%
  6. Octopus: 27%
  7. Crab: 24%
  8. Goat: 23%
  9. Tuna: 15%-21%
  10. Smelt: 20%

Not surprisingly, the plant-based foods had on average much higher levels of these nutrients. 


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