Foods That Fight Depression

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.


Am I really writing about this topic again? Suicide? As I’ve done so many times in the last couple of month?

Kate Spade!

Anthony Bourdain!

I’m pissed.

Not because of what they did (we all struggle with our own demons)…

Not because of the (mostly) formulaic media coverage about how “we just don’t know what leads people to commit suicide” (we actually have some very good and NEW ideas about what leads to problems with Mental Wellness)…

But because of the fact that we have a LOT of natural options for alleviating depression and improving mental wellness that are BETTER than any of the poorly-effective, high-side-effect, dangerous, addictive, synthetic drugs that millions of Americans are taking every day (and struggling to quit). These drugs don’t make anyone feel good – they just make you feel terrible in a different way than you felt before.

Just last month, I was talking on KUTV’s Fresh Living about “foods that fight depression” – in celebration of National Mental Health Awareness month. See that clip HERE.

A growing body of scientific research is showing that a “Mediterranean style” can not only prevent depression, but can reverse it after it’s started.

Scientists have known for at least a decade that a diet high in processed and highly refined foods increases depression risk in adults, teens, and kids.

In a series of ground-breaking research studies conducted over the last year, scientists from Australia, Chicago, and New York City have shown that a few very simple dietary changes can significantly improve mood and dramatically reverse depression within as little as several weeks.

In one study, people with major depression were able to reverse their disease within 3 months (BMC Medicine, January 2017) – even when other treatments such as synthetic antidepressant drugs were less effective and higher in side effects. A larger follow-up study showed the mood boost lasted at least 6 months (Nutritional Neuroscience, December 2017).

Just last month (April 2018), new research studies have shown depression-prevention in elderly adults eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (Rush University Medical Center at American Academy of Neurology) – and lower fatigue (-64%), depression (-55%), and tension (-45%) in stressed-out adults taking a probiotic/prebiotic supplement (Amare Fundamentals at Experimental Biology).

Many scientists and health professionals are starting to think about depression as a condition of an “unhealthy brain” – so just as we nourish and strengthen the heart to improve cardiovascular health, we also need to do the same for our brain. We also need to keep in mind that we really have TWO brains that need nourishing – the one in our head and the one in our gut (the “2nd brain”) that includes the trillions of bacteria called our microbiome (that produce up to 90% of our feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin).

Just as an unhealthy diet high in processed foods promotes inflammation (believed to be a cause of virtually every disease, from heart disease to diabetes to depression), a healthy Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits/vegetables, olive oil, legumes, nuts, yogurt, cheese, whole grains, and fish (with red meat and red wine in moderation) will nourish our brains(s), reduce inflammation, and modulate our microbiome.

Perhaps even more compelling than the dramatic health benefits of the right foods for preventing and treating depression, is the fact that this way of eating is both easy and delicious. My own “Mental Wellness Diet” (MWdiet for short) is a super-charged version of the Mediterranean diet that addresses the 3 primary anti-depression factors:

1. Brain Nutrients (Vitamin B6, Omega-3 fats, Flavonoids, Tocotrienols)

2. Inflammation

3. Microbiome

DocTalbott’s MWdiet Shopping List

Fresh Fruits & Vegetables

• Unlimited amounts – choose brighter options grown as close to home as possible

• Spinach

• Kale

• Cabbage

• Sweet potatoes

• Tomatoes

• Onions

• Leeks

• Garlic

• Asparagus

• Artichokes

• Peas (frozen is OK)

• Bananas

• Berries (frozen is OK)

• Pomegranates

• Apples

• Grapes (including red wine, in moderation)

Beans & Legumes (canned is OK)

• Black beans

• Kidney beans

• Garbanzo (Chickpeas)

• Lentils

Healthy Fats

• Extra Virgin Olive Oil

• Nuts – Cashews, Walnuts, Almonds, Macadamias, Pistachios

• Avocados

Whole Grains

• Oats/Oatmeal

• Whole Grain Pasta

• Quinoa

• Brown Rice

Dairy, Cheese, and Fermented Foods

• Greek Yogurt, Icelandic Skyr, or other yogurt (look for lower sugar and higher fat content)

• Whole Organic Milk

• Kefir

• Kombucha (fermented tea)

• Cheeses of your choice (in moderation)

• Sauerkraut (and other fermented veggies such as cucumbers/pickles, beets, carrots, turnips)


• Salmon

• Chicken

• Eggs

• Shrimp (frozen is OK)

• Lean Pork

• Lean Beef (in moderation)

Herbs & Spices

• Turmeric

• Ginger

• Basil

• Rosemary

• Oregano

• Clove

• Sage

• Cayenne

• Parsley

• Thyme

• Saffron

• Cumin

• Coriander

• Paprika

• Cinnamon

• Allspice

• Nutmeg

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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