What we eat can affect our mood, making us feel happier. A number of people who suffer from depression, for example, improve significantly when they eat less (or eliminate) processed/sugary foods and consume more complex carbohydrates, such as grains and vegetables. A healthy diet may reduce brain inflammation, important for improving neuron (brain cell) functions and reducing anxiety and depression.

We asked noted physician James S. Gordon, MD, what other dietary changes can improve mood…

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Population studies clearly show that people with a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids have a lower incidence of depression. The membranes that surround brain cells contain significant amounts of fatty acids. When more of these fats consist of omega-3s, the membranes become more flexible and porous—important for absorbing nutrients and receiving/transmitting chemical signals, important in boosting mood.

Recommended: Eat two or three fish meals a week. Cold-water fish, such as sardines, mackerel and herring, are the best food sources of omega-3s. If you don’t like fish, try a supplement of 3,000 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 fatty acids, divided into two daily doses. Choose a supplement that provides 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA per 1,000-mg capsule.

Dietary Fiber

Constipation is a common symptom—and possibly a cause—of the blues. People who don’t eat enough fiber have smaller, less frequent bowel movements. This means that toxins that are present in the stools can get reabsorbed into the body. This can trigger depression and other mood changes.

Recommended: At least 30 grams (g) of fiber daily—more is probably better. People who mainly eat plant foods automatically get enough fiber. If your diet is short on fiber, add four to five tablespoons of unprocessed oat bran to your morning cereal or smoothie.

Red flag: Having three or fewer bowel movements a week. This is not normal. You should be having one or more bowel movements a day. If you’re not, you probably need to consume more fiber (and water, too).


Everyone who is feeling down should take a daily multisupplement. The majority of Americans are deficient in one or more of the essential micronutrients, including selenium, magnesium and B vitamins.

Why it matters: A deficiency of even one nutrient can impair the body’s ability to utilize other nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies are a common cause of low energy as well as depressed mood.

One study found that people who consumed less than the recommended daily amount of selenium had significant mood improvements when they took supplements.

Magnesium is particularly important for mood because it’s used for the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that increases when people take prescription antidepressants.

Recommended: Start with a daily supplement that provides all of the key vitamins and minerals. You also might want to take a separate B-complex supplement because B vitamins are vital to the metabolism of cells—in particular, the cells of the nervous system.


S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) releases a methyl molecule in the body that is necessary for the production of dopamine and serotonin. A review of scientific studies found that SAMe relieves symptoms of depression significantly better than a placebo—and sometimes as well as prescription drugs. SAMe is far less likely than medications to cause significant side effects.

Recommended: I usually advise patients with depression to start with dietary changes, stress-reduction techniques, exercise and sometimes talk therapy. If these aren’t effective, it’s helpful to take SAMe for several weeks or months—or, in those with chronic depression, sometimes indefinitely.

The starting dose usually is 200 mg at morning and noontime. The amount can be slightly increased after several weeks if the initial dose isn’t effective. If you feel agitated, you’ll want to decrease the dose.


If other approaches don’t work, I may recommend tryptophan, an amino acid. Both tryptophan and the more easily available 5HTP (into which tryptophan is converted) increase the body’s production of serotonin. Tryptophan was largely banned in the early 1990s following contamination at a manufacturing plant. The supplement itself is entirely safe.

Both tryptophan and 5HTP make it easier to fall asleep—important because insomnia and/or disturbed sleep are common in those with depression.

Recommended: Take 500 mg of tryptophan at bedtime. If tryptophan is not available, take 50 mg to 100 mg of 5HTP twice daily.


Healthy adults have trillions of beneficial intestinal bacteria known as probiotics. These organisms facilitate the production of energy within cells, promote the synthesis of B vitamins and other nutrients, and improve digestive health. Many people with depression have lower-than-expected levels of probiotic organisms.

Recommended: One to two capsules daily of a supplement that provides two to three billion organisms. Look for a combination supplement that includes acidophilus and bifidophilus organisms.

Food Sensitivities Can Cause Depression

An important factor in some people’s depression is a sensitivity to one or more foods. I believe that food sensitivity is far more pervasive and far more often a cause of, or contributor to, depression than we know.

Food sensitivity can be caused by the passage of large, reaction-stimulating protein molecules out of an intestine that has been made “leaky.” Infections and antibiotics and other drugs may be responsible for these leaky guts, but there may be dietary causes as well, including consumption of refined and processed foods. As large protein molecules pass across the gut into the bloodstream, they are believed to provoke defensive reactions in nearly every system in the body.

This immune reaction can cause depression and may produce a variety of physical symptoms as well, including fatigue.

Many people are sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat and some other grains. Other problem foods may include milk, eggs, citrus and soy.

If you suspect that your depression might be linked to diet, you can try an elimination diet…

Completely eliminate possible food culprits from your diet. Begin by saying no to gluten, milk and other dairy products, eggs, soy and sugar. Keep a diary. Every day, note any symptoms…how you’re feeling…and whether your energy has increased or decreased.

After three weeks, reintroduce the foods one at a time. For example, eat a slice or two of wheat bread at dinner. See how you feel the next day. If your mood doesn’t change, then you probably aren’t sensitive to that food. Wait a week, and reintroduce another food.

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