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A Nutritional Guide to Managing Your MDD

Major depressive disorder (MDD) can have a huge impact on your life. You may lose interest in your favorite activities, have difficulty sleeping, or experience a change in appetite. Persistent sadness, irritability, and frustration can also change your relationships with family and friends or interfere with your ability to concentrate at work or school.

MDD, also known as clinical depression, is characterized by sadness that lasts for weeks or months. Some people find relief with treatment, but even with antidepressants and talk therapy, symptoms may linger.

If you’re looking for an approach to supplement your current therapy, adding certain foods to your diet can make a difference. Although there’s no specific diet to relieve symptoms of MDD, some foods may provide a much-needed mood boost.

B vitamins

Low levels of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and folate can increase the risk of depression. These vitamins affect mood and brain function. A deficiency may occur if you don’t consume enough food rich in B vitamins or if you have a medical condition that makes it difficult for your body to absorb vitamins such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.

Your doctor can test your vitamin B levels and, if necessary, recommend a supplement. You should also modify your diet and include foods rich in these vitamins. Good sources of vitamin B include:

  • Almonds
  • Beet roots
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Eggs
  • Fish, poultry, and other lean meats
  • Lentils
  • Liver
  • Low-fat or fat-free milk

Vitamin D

If you have MDD, you may be deficient in vitamin D. This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for strong bones, and low levels of vitamin D have been linked to numerous mood disorders.

Depending on the severity of your deficiency, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter vitamin D supplements or give you a prescription for vitamin D. Eating the right foods may also correct a deficiency.

Because the sun is an excellent source of vitamin D, increasing the amount of time you spend outdoors can improve your mood and relieve symptoms of depression. If you can’t get outdoors, sit or work under a lightbox that mimics natural sunlight for about 30 minutes a day.

In addition to these suggestions, eating more vitamin D-rich foods can have a positive impact on your mood. Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Beef liver
  • Cereals
  • Vitamin D-fortified dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon)
  • Portobello mushrooms
  • Vitamin D-fortified orange juice

Omega-3 fatty acids

If you’re not eating enough omega-3 fatty acids, you may have difficulty managing your depression symptoms. Fatty acids are essential to good health and offer several benefits such as:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Lowering risk of cancer
  • Improving heart health
  • Boosting mood

Mood swings and depression can occur if you have a deficiency. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, and sardines)
  • Flaxseed
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Soybeans
  • Walnuts

Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids alone may not significantly improve depression, but you may see improvement if you eat omega-3 foods along with taking prescribed antidepressants.

If you prefer an omega-3 supplement, talk to your doctor before combining a supplement with your prescription medication.


Research has also identified a link between low selenium levels and depression. Selenium is a trace mineral with antioxidant properties, so it can protect your body from cell damage. Because this mineral is also important to brain function, a deficiency can trigger low moods.

Taking a selenium supplement along with an antidepressant may help. You can also increase your intake of selenium through food. Good sources of selenium include:

  • Brown or white rice
  • Cheese
  • Chia seeds
  • Couscous
  • Egg noodles
  • Portobello mushrooms
  • Poultry
  • Seafood (tilapia, bass, oysters, salmon sardines, and crab)
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Yogurt

Other tips

When you’re feeling down, you may crave junk food to feel better. The good news is that you don’t have to feel guilty about reaching for a chocolate bar. Dark chocolate increases the brain’s production of endorphins, which are hormones that affect mood.

However, it’s important to consume chocolate in moderation. Too much can raise your blood sugar and cause a sugar crash.

Be aware that alcohol and caffeine may worsen depression symptoms. While they are fine in moderation, too much can reduce serotonin levels and increase anxiety and depression.

The takeaway

Depression can be debilitating, but there are ways to improve your symptoms. You shouldn’t stop your current treatment unless advised by a doctor. You can, however, supplement your treatment by modifying your diet and adding mood-boosting foods.

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