Nutrition and Depression: Is Your Diet Affecting Your Mood?

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

Today, people are divided on the treatment of nutrition. There appear to be two major camps among us: those of us that care, and those of us who do not. This is not to say that those of us who do care about nutrition are any better off than those who do not. There is a dichotomy of people wrapped up in a world of no-carb, slow-carb, South Beach diets, Atkins programs, Weight Watchers and others who live drive-thru window to drive-thru window, with only the occasional salad to re-acquaint us with vegetables. In the grand scheme of the American diet, very few of us are receiving all of the nutrients in the quantities that our bodies require.

We all know that nutrition can affect our weight, muscle tone, and physical wellness, but few of us stop to consider that the way we eat can affect our moods and mental wellness too! Recent studies have begun to explore the connection between nutrition and an individual’s risk for depression. While we have no conclusive evidence that this is true, we have seen a strong correlation between the increase of sugar and the increase of depression, as well as the decrease of vegetable consumption and the increase of depression.

Before we even delve deeply into how nutrition can effect depression, we can examine common nutritional imbalances that are known to worsen our moods:

  • Blood sugar imbalances, associated with excessive sugar intake
  • Lack of B Vitamins
  • Lack of essential fats, including omega-3 fatty acids

One of the major factors that we have begun to correlate with elevated risk of depression is a poor control of blood glucose levels, or sugar imbalances. Symptoms of these imbalances include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration and forgetfulness, and more notably sadness and crying spells. Not only do these feelings perpetuate the general negative physical and mental feelings that are difficult to overcome, but they also precede a condition called “insulin resistance.” People who are insulin resistant have a decreased sensitivity to insulin, and often consume more refined sugars. This sugar consumption only works to amplify other problems, as increased consumption of refined sugars increases the use of and demand for B Vitamins that also work to regulate moods.

B Vitamins are important in many of the brain’s processes that regulate moods. These vitamins act as co-factors in the important enzymes that produce and balance neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline. The B Vitamins that are most important to stable and positive mental health are B12, B6, and folic acid (B9). Recent studies have shown that folate deficiency is common in patients diagnosed with depression; often introducing B Vitamins into a patient’s diet can reduce melancholic mood and promote mood improvement.

Research has concluded that omega-3 fatty acids have a direct influence on serotonin; researchers assume that these essential fats aid in both the production and the reception of serotonin. Some studies have gone on to show that increasing the amount of omega-3 fats, found in fish, in a person’s diet can lead do a lessening of depression. This often results in an increased sense of self-worth and an increased desire to socialize.

If you feel that your diet has been dragging down your mood lately, there are a few simple adjustments that may help you get back to your usual, positive self!

  • Reducing your intake of sugar and intake will help stabilize your emotions. This includes desserts, caffeinated drinks, and smoking.
  • Increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in your daily meals will help you achieve a truly balanced diet. The average person should have 3 to 5 servings of both fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Eating oily fish twice a week will increase your serotonin production and reception, and will help ward off feelings of depression. These omega-3 heavy fish include mackerel, tuna, salmon, and herring.
  • Adding dietary supplements including vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid can help to correct any deficiencies that contribute to your bad moods. Adding omega-3 fish oil capsules can also work to improve your mood.

In addition to these dietary adjustments, changes to your lifestyle may also help you improve your mood and decrease negative emotions and depression. Individuals who work out and engage in outdoor activity have elevated moods as compared to those who do not. These activities also encourage balance nutrition! Of course, some people may still need counseling to overcome their depression. Working with a counselor can also help you to focus on and maintain these positive changes.


Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 2212 Dupont Dr., Suite I, Irvine, Ca. 92612.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
copyright a division of Counseling Corner, Inc.
As seen in The Blade magazine June 2005.

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