7 Good-Mood Spring and Summer Foods
Can you eat your way to a better mood? Science suggests yes — filling up on certain healthy and delicious foods really may help reduce symptoms of depression.
A growing body of research suggests that eating certain nutrient-rich foods can help people with depression?feel better — and many of those foods are especially abundant in spring and summer.
Although how exactly food helps fight depression is not fully understood, the relationship makes a lot of sense considering that your body and brain need more than 40 nutrients and a million phytonutrients to function properly, explains Elizabeth Somer, RD, a dietitian in Salem, Oregon, and author of several books, including Food & Mood.
Does Diet Play a Role in Depression? What Science Shows
“We have over a decade of data now on the field of nutritional psychiatry that shows a clear connection between our dietary choices and our mental health,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Ohio.
Of course, diet is not the only factor. Experts believe potential causes of depression also include genetics, biological factors, and psychological factors, among others.
“Depression as a mood disorder does not have one direct cause and does not display a single set of symptoms among all who have it,” confirms Caroline West Passerello, RDN, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and an instructor in the dietitian nutritionist program at the University of Pittsburgh.
That said, “even though mental health is very complex, we should not be surprised that a stronger dietary pattern is conducive to better mental health outcomes,” says Toronto-based registered dietitian Andy De Santis, RD, MPH.
In fact, new research suggests that a change in diet may modify biologic factors that are tied to developing depression, says Passerello.
One link between diet and depression appears to involve the gut microbiota — bacteria and other microorganisms that occur naturally in your gut. A review article published in July 2019 in Nutrients showed that diet quality affects the gut microbiota, which in turn may influence one’s risk of depression.
“In a nutshell, diet may impact both gut microbiota, nutrients (or lack of), and inflammatory factors in the brain, all of which can have an impact on depression,” explains Kirkpatrick, who is also a senior fellow at Meadows Behavioral Healthcare in Wickenburg, Arizona, where she helped implement the Fuel Well Program as a component of mental health treatment.
In addition, research such as the SMILES Trial shows how dietary management strategies could play a role in managing depression. The findings, which were published in the journal BMC Medicine?in January 2017, demonstrated that receiving support from a registered dietitian to improve one’s diet helped improve depressive symptoms.
Key Nutrients for Dealing With Depression
“We do know there are certain vitamins and minerals that support the pathways in our bodies that have been associated with a lower prevalence of depression, but we can't say for sure that foods high in these vitamins and minerals will treat or prevent the disorder, which requires a multidisciplinary approach,” says Passerrello.
Some nutrients that appear to play a role in depression are:
- B vitamins
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
Kirkpatrick says getting these nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements often offers the most health benefits.
Wondering which foods to choose? Here’s a closer look at seven warm-weather options that contain these nutrients and why eating them as part of an overall treatment plan may help fight depression.
Watermelon Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
This sweet, summer staple is not only a great refreshing treat. “Watermelon?is also an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects delicate brain tissue," Somer says.
"Watermelon has more lycopene than tomatoes — up to 20 milligrams (mg) in each 2-cup serving,” she says. “The lycopene in watermelon helps lower the risk for inflammation associated with dementia and possibly depression."
Beyond its lycopene content, Kirkpatrick notes, watermelon is a great choice in place of treats high in sugar.
A study of postmenopausal women published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2015?found that a diet high in added sugar was associated with an increased risk of depression.
“Many individuals tend to comfort themselves with sugar, which can have a negative impact on mental health,” she explains. “Instead, watermelon is full of nutrients.”
Shrimp Is High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If you’re looking for an easy, mood-boosting meal, throw some shrimp on the barbecue. “Shrimp contain omega-3s,” says Zelana Montminy, PsyD, a behavioral scientist in Los Angeles, and “studies say omega-3s may help ease depressive symptoms and can smooth out moods.”
Low levels of essential fatty acids like omega-3s in the body are associated with psychiatric illnesses like depression, according to a January 2018 review article published in The British Journal of Psychology.
Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna.
Bell Peppers Are Full of Fiber
Kirkpatrick says 2 ? ounces (oz) of bell peppers (any color) pack a rich 2 grams (g) or so of fiber. Why is that important?
“A February 2021 study found that fiber consumption was associated with reduced risk of depression,” she says. The study, which was published in Menopause, showed that a higher dietary fiber intake was associated with less depression among women experiencing perimenopause.
Corn Is a Super Healthy Carbohydrate
Starchy vegetables like corn are considered high-quality carbohydrates full of fiber and nutrients, says Rachel Begun, RDN, a food and nutrition consultant and communications expert in New York City.
“So go ahead and enjoy that grilled corn on the cob and corn chowder, or mix the kernels into a black bean and corn salad, as beans are another high-quality carb that enhances mood levels,” Begun advises.
Cherries May Boost Mood and Brain Power
De Santis notes that cherries are high in flavonoids, which are potentially protective against depression. A July 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that consuming higher amounts of flavonoids may be tied to a lower risk of depression.
“They are strong antioxidants that may reduce inflammation/damage in brain cells,” says De Santis, adding that focusing on flavonoid-rich foods like cherries may be a good, complementary approach for those looking to optimize brain health from a dietary perspective.
Asparagus Is Rich in Folate
One of the yummiest spring vegetables, asparagus, is packed with an array of depression-fighting nutrients like folate, which is a B vitamin, as well as potassium and many other essential vitamins and minerals.
Proof of its potential anti-depression effects: A December 2017 review article published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that people with depression have lower amounts of folate in their bodies and diets than people without depression.
Cucumbers Help Keep You Hydrated
Cucumbers are in ample supply in the warmer months whether you grow your own or enjoy locally sourced ones from nearby farmer’s markets. And they’re actually bursting with health benefits. But one of the main reasons cucumbers may alleviate depressive symptoms is that they are made up mostly of water, which can help you stay hydrated when the weather is hot.
Research shows staying hydrated can help support your mental health — one September 2018 study published in the World Journal of Psychiatry found an association between skimping on water and having a heightened depression risk.
Not to mention — cucumbers are rich in B vitamins, which promote good mental health.