Depression: Can the right food, help mood?

Depression: Can the right food, help mood?


Depression is common mental health condition. As part of National Depression awareness week premier women’s health channel healthista published an article on this topic too. Helping to raise awareness around this condition that according to Mind affects 1 in 4 of us.

Check it out here


“Eat more fat and meat and you might help lift that low mood”

It almost sounds too good to be true right?


But these are just some of the findings that came from the latest ‘SMILES’ research from the University of Deakin, Australia.

You can download the full paper here

Low Mood and Diet – What’s the evidence to date?


There is now extensive observational evidence across countries and age groups supporting  diet quality as a possible risk or protective factor for depression.

Unlike much other previous research looking at mental health and the effects of diet, the emphasis is on diet patterns and quality rather than individual nutrients per-say.

There are some exceptions that I’ve outlined later.

This is different from previous years where individual nutrients such as vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, selenium etc. have shown to have an impact on mental health

This is exactly my approach to managing patients with mental health concerns such as depression or symptoms of low mood in my functional dietetics clinic.

You can find out more about my approach to nutrition treatment here.


Is there a Depression-Dysbiosis link? 



The balance between brain function, the gut microbiota and the gut-brain axis

Image courtesy of Cryan et al. (2012)


Cryan and colleagues did a nice summary of the mechanistic pathways involved in the gut-brain axis in Nature 4 years ago.

Essentially, there is a dual relationship between brain health and gut health. 

We also know that the gastrointestinal tract communicates with the brain via the ‘gut-brain axis’; this is a the neural efferent pathway interface between the gut and the brain that seems modulated by the bacteria living in our gut (microbiota).

For a superb and comprehensive (and open access!) review on this topic, make sure you read this paper by Foster and colleagues

Early experiments with germ-free mice confirmed a link between diet and mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, for the full references see here and here.

When these mice were colonised with commensal bacterial strains such as Lactobacillus plantarum – those that are found in fermented food products such as:

Sauerkraut, Yoghurt, Kefir, Kimchi, Tempeh


A selection of Fermented foods courtesy of

 Great image of fermented foods courtesy of

So what happened to the mice?

Two mice together worrying about their tummy health...


When the bacteria colonised the gut, this increased locomotor activity in comparison to control GF mice, a behavioural change that was associated with increased levels of dopamine, serotonin and their metabolites in the striatum.


How could a modified Mediterranean Diet help depression? 



Although there are many versions of a ‘healthful diet’ in different countries and cultures, the available evidence from observational studies suggests that diets higher in plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, and lean proteins, including fish, are associated with a reduced risk for depression,


Whilst dietary patterns that include more processed food and sugary products are associated with an increased risk of depression.


No huge surprises there but does it work?


ModiMed Diet

Image courtesy of

What diet changes do you need to consider?


Here are some practice-led tips you can use today to help manage those low mood symptoms with dietary changes:


1. Eat a low refined carbohydrate diet 

That means cutting back on all added and free sugars. (look on the label for ingredients such as sucrose, fructose, corn or other ‘syrups’, dextrose, glucose). Naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, starchy root vegetables and whole grain carbohydrates should be fine for many patients, but everyone is different and total carbohydrate load in the diet is definitely a factor that I consider with all clients in my personalised dietitian appointments

2. Make sure you don’t eat a low fat diet 

Unless otherwise indicated, a low fat diet (<10% of total energy intake) is not a good choice for helping manage moods. The SMILES trial suggested up to 40% of total energy should come from unrefined, fats from a variety of sources but most fish oils and polyunsaturated fatty acids.  My recommendation, based on the totality of the research I’ve seen is to shoot for a balance, between saturated fatty acids derived from organic, free range meats and organ meats (such as liver) and unsaturated fatty acids from extra virgin olive oil, avocadoes, raw nuts and seeds, flax seed oil and oily fish such as: mackerel, sardines, salmon and pilchards.

3. Vegan might not be the way to go 

Whilst those choosing to go 100% plant-based might want to skip this point, the SMILES trial suggested that having some animal based proteins, which tend to be rich in zinc, copper, iodine and vitamin B12 are all very important for cognitive health. Without animal foods, I would suggest doing some laboratory investigations annually to check micronutrient status to prevent any deficiencies becoming problematic.


4. Keep the Alcohol at bay 

The evidence conflicts but keeping alcohol under control is definitely important when it comes to cognitive health. Anywhere between 1-2 drinks in a 24 hour period seems to be the best tradeoff between health and enjoying a glass of something more than water. If you’ve not considered cutting back on alcohol, maybe dry january is a good place to start, check out my previous blog post ‘Dry January: Love Your Liver’ to see all the reasons why it could improve your health.

Ready to get started? 







5 Responses to Depression: Can the right food, help mood?

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  2. Thank you for your post. I’ve found similar results as well. I did try a Vegan diet first and felt I was severely lacking in nutrients. The key is really balance and cutting out those processed foods!

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