Demanding Lifestyles, Mood

Got the blues? foods to help beat depression

The word depression is used widely in our everyday language to describe feeling down, but this mental health condition can range from mild to extremely serious. We are a nation in the grip of an epidemic – a study in 2003 aimed to assess the cost of depression to our economy, and came up with a figure of £9billion a year! The cost of direct treatment in 2000 was calculated at £370 million with 109.7 million working days lost and 2615 deaths due to depression in 20001

Statistics are all very well, but the reality of living with depression can be devastating. Simple tasks like getting dressed, leaving the house, interacting with other people become insurmountable. Going for a walk can be a huge achievement for someone suffering from this debilitating illness. Many of us may feel down from time to time, often this feeling lasts for a short time or could be linked to particular circumstances.It is when this feeling is difficult to shake that we need have a look at the underlying causes.

There are specific illnesses that can be associated with feeling depressed, it is vital that you consult your doctor and insist on immediate, thorough testing especially for nutritional deficiency, thyroid function and heart health. You can also consider consulting a private healthcare professional for more detailed, private testing.

A simple walk through how the chemicals in our brain influence your mood

You may have heard of ‘doping’ in sports or ‘dope’ as an illegal drug. These abbreviations refer to ‘dopamine’, one of several chemicals that influence how we feel. Dopamine and noradrenaline are chemicals in our brain that give us our ‘get up and go’; they enable us to feel very very happy and to be in a ‘good mood’.

The other important chemical that helps us to feel a sense of wellbeing is serotonin, which also betters our mood, helps us get to sleep and get up, and influences our temper.

Our brain needs to have enough of all of these anti-depressant chemicals to stay well. They are made from our food in fact from specific nutrients. See a further list below.

Brain Fuel

The other thing that we need for our brain to function well is fuel. If it can’t function, we start to feel fuzzy or get a crashing low. In fact, making sure that you have a constant supply of brain energy is crucial if you are suffering from ‘the blues’. The brain uses sugar as fuel. But do not rush out and binge on sugary snacks. They will probably make you feel better for a bit, then you will get a crashing energy and mood low again. To ensure a steady moderate level of sugar in your blood, follow these principles to keep you blood sugar in check

  • Avoid big meals, replace these with smaller, more frequent meals. Eating three meals and two or three balanced snacks per day can help you to avoid sugar dips and maintain your energy.
  • Aim to include protein in every meal or snack to slow down the release of the sugars into the blood.
  • Increase the amount of fibrous foods that you eat: make sure you have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Replace white (refined) flours with brown/wholegrain (complex) flours. Buy brown pasta, rice and wholegrain (not wholemeal) bread.
  • Reduce sugary foods, you know what they are.
  • Replace sugary drinks and fruit juices with water.
  • Aim for a maximum of one coffee a day – but no caffeine is best.
  • Eat a good breakfast; you can wake up with a sugar low after a whole night of not eating.
  • Carry protein-rich and healthy snacks with you at all times – good quality health food bars will contain protein, check the label.

These changes should be made to improve your mood. A recent study showed an alleviation of mood disturbance, depression and fatigue in 50% of individuals who took part in a blood stabilising diet (no refined sugar and caffeine)2. When sugary foods and caffeine were reintroduced, these people felt unwell again. These results were replicated later using a tool that measured scale of depression3 depression worsened when poor dietary habits and caffeine were reintroduced.

What to eat to help our ‘brain chemicals’ to improve our mood:

The brain chemicals that influence how we feel are made from proteins.

Serotonin is made by the body using a specific amino acid called tryptophan, which we can only get from our food4. It is widely reported that low tryptophan decreases mood4Some people who suffer from depression feel better when they eat tryptophan-rich foods, although how and why is still debated by the science5

  • Tryptophan-rich foods include: meat (choose lean cuts), poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, oats, tofu, and lentils. These are healthy, low fat, high protein, whole foods that contain essential tryptophan and can contribute to a blood sugar balancing diet.

Do not buy tryptophan supplements over the internet or counter, their use requires professional or medical supervision.

The happy chemicals in your brain, dopamine and noradrenaline are also made from amino acids, most notably tyrosine and phenylalanine – lower levels of these are associated with lower levels of the mood enhancing chemicals6(2 papers)

  • Good quality protein is the best source of these building blocks: eggs, lean meat, seafood, cheese, milk, tofu, whole wheat bread, and yogurt.

In order for dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin to be made other nutrients are needed; these include Folic acid, B6 and B127. Low folate and B12 levels are associated with depression and are recommended for people suffering from depressive symptoms8, always take B vitamins in a ‘complex’.

For food sources of vital, mood enhancing B vitamins:

  • Folic Acid: beetroot, Brussels sprouts, spinach, peanuts, sprouts, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower
  • B12: oily fish, eggs, oysters, tuna, cottage cheese, turkey and chicken
  • B6: turkey, lentils and liver, oily fish, soy products, nuts, egg yolk and dark green leafy vegetables

Omega 3 and depression

Once you have sufficient nutrients to make the mood-enhancing chemicals in your brain, your brain cells need to be able to ‘receive’ them, making them take effect. The gateways to entry into brain cells are made from essential fats – omega 3 and omega 6. Both of these health promoting fats also influence amount of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline in the cells. Low levels of Omega 3, in particular DHA9 and EPA10 as found in fish oil, have been confirmed in depressive patients. A review of 94 studies using of Omega 3 to treat depression found ‘significantly improved depressive symptoms in subjects with mood disorders, with clearly defined depression or with bipolar disorder11

  • Aim to eat the government-recommended 2-3 servings of fish a week, with at least one oily fish to ensure that you have enough.
  • If you do not eat enough fish, consider a fish oil supplement.
  • Nuts and seeds are also a great source of Omega 3 and 6, aim to snack on these every day. Have a read of our article if you think Omega 3 and Fish Oils are not the same.
  • Replace sources of saturated fats and trans fats (red meat, full-fat dairy products, processed foods especially bakery and biscuits) with health-promoting fats – snack on seeds and nuts, replace red meat choices with fish and replace eggs and milk with omega-3 enriched options.

Vitamin D

Low Vitamin D status is associated with depressive symptoms although supplementation is showing mixed results12.  The most effective way to increase your levels of vitamin D are:

  • short bursts of exposure to the sun during the summer months
  • eat foods that contain Vitamin D: oily fish (herrings, sardines, trout, mackerel) and eggs.  Also, fortified foods: low fat spreads and breakfast cereals, soya products, although these are often processed.
  • Supplementation with Vitamin D is a good idea for those who do not expose their skin to the sun, have darker skin tones and live at higher latitudes including the UK, north of Birmingham13Vitamin D, in D3 form, is found in most good quality multivitamins.


Zinc is an essential mineral for our health and the highest concentration of this mineral are found in our brain.  It has been shown that lower zinc levels are found in people suffering from depression14, and studies have shown that zinc can contribute to improving depressive symptoms15.

  • Foods rich in Zinc include: Oysters, roast beef, crab, sardines, pumpkin and sesame seeds, eggs and cheese

Consider food intolerances

There is some evidence that suggests that those who are suffering from a food intolerance are more likely to show symptoms of anxiety and depression16.  If you are being affected by the blues or ongoing depressive symptoms consider a food intolerance test – it may be that you need to eliminate foods that do not agree with you to improve your mood.

Improve your mood with exercise:

Get out there and do some exercise! It may seem impossible when you are feeling down but even a walk round the block is worth it.  If it is the only activity that you can manage doing some form or physical activity with a view to increasing this to the recommended five ½ hour sessions a week where your heart rate increases it a great place to start to tackle low mood and depressive symtoms17.


A number of food and lifestyle changes can help to alleviate ‘the blues’.  Depression as a mental illness is multi factorial and may require medication.  Many of the changes here can improve your overall health and have been scientifically proven to help in studies on those suffering from depression.

  • Avoid sugar highs and lows with a blood sugar balancing diet
  • Eat healthy, low saturated fat, protein-rich foods with every meal.  These contain the building blocks that make feel good chemicals in your brain.
  • Eat a minimum of 2-3 servings of fish a week, with at least one oily fish.
  • Do get your recommended 30 minutes exercise every day.
  • Get checked out for food intolerances
  • If you are suffering from depressive symptoms, consider taking a good quality multivitamin to help your brain get back on track
  • Consider a fish oil supplement if you are not eating the recommended amount of fish.


1. Thomas C, Morris S, 2003, Cost of depression among adults in England in 2000, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 183:514-519

2. Krietsch K, Christensen L, White B, 1987, Prevalence, presenting symptoms, and psychological characteristics of individuals experiencing a diet-related mood disturbance, Behaviour Therapy, 19:593-604

3.Christensen L, Burrows R, 1990, Dietary Treatment of Depression, Behavioural Therapy, 21:183-193

4. Mohammad M , Siddiqui Mu R, 2011,.  A Literature Review on the Effect of Changing Blood Tryptophan Concentration on Mood, in Particular Depression and How Concentration of Tryptophan can be Altered Through Diet and Supplements .  WebmedCentral PSYCHIATRY, 2(4):WMC001844

5. Soh NL, Walter G, 2011, Tryptophan and depression: can diet alone be the answer?, Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 23:3-11

6. Fernstrom JD, Fernstrom MH, 2007, Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, and Catecholamine synthesis and Funtion in the Brain, The Journal of Nutrition, 137:1539S-1547S

7. Jorm AF, Christensen H, Griffiths KM, Rodgers B, 2002, Effectiveness of complementary and self-help treatments for depression, The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), 176:S84-S95

8. Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C, 2005, Treatment of depression: Time to consider folic acid and Vitamin B12, Journal of Psychopharmacology, 19:59-65

9.Peet M, Murphy B, Shay J, Horrobin D, 1998, Depletion of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels in Red Blood Cell Membranes of Depressive Patients, Biological Psychiatry, 43:315-319

10. Adams PB, Lawson S, Sanigorski A, Sinclair AJ, 1996, Arachidonic acid to eicopentaenoic acid ratio in blood correlates positively with clinical symptoms of depression, Lipids, 31:S157-S161

11. Pao-Yen L, Kuan-Pin S, 2007, A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo controlled efficacy of Omega 3 fatty acids, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68:1056-1061

12.  Day CMJ, Rees K, Weich S, Stranges S, 2011, Vitamin D to reduce depressive symptoms: A review systematic review, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 65:A16 doi:10.1136/jech.2011.143586.35

13. Satellite signals, Latitude calculator, retrieved 03.03.11 from

14. Maes M, Vandoolaeghe E, Neels H, Demedts P, Wauters A, Meltzer HY, Altamura C, Desnyder R, 1997, Lower serum zinc in major depression is a sensitive marker of treatment resistance and of the immune/inflammatory response in that illness.  Biological Psychiatry, 42:349–358.

15. Nowak G, Szewczyk B, Pilc A, 2005, Zinc and Depression.  An Update, Pharmalogical Reports, 57:713-718

16. Addolorato G, Marsigli L, Capristo E, Caputo F, Dall’aglio C, Baudanza P, Cammarota G, Graziosetto R, Foschi FG, Stefanini GF, Gasbarrini G, 1998, Anxiety and depression : A common feature of health care seeking patients with irritable bowel syndrome and food allergy, Hepato-gasterenterology, 45:1559-1564

17. Strohle A, Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders, Biological Psychiatry, 116:777-784


Disclaimer: Seven Seas Life is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The articles are based on peer reviewed research, and discoveries/products mentioned in the articles may not be approved by our regulatory bodies, you will find no mention of Seven Seas products within the pages of the Seven Seas Life Section..Read more

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