Many of us reach for a tub of ice cream when we feel stressed out and upset after a bad day at work, school, or home. These bouts of fear and sadness tend to subside after a few pints of ice cream (and romcoms), but people with depression or anxiety may face a constant state of despair. Prescription medication may keep depression and anxiety at bay, but science has shown diet and nutrition can influence our mental health as well.

Depression and anxiety are highly complex, and vary from person to person. Approximately 6.7 percent of the U.S. population over 18 is afflicted with depression, while 3.1 percent of the population is affected by anxiety. Typically, with these mental illnesses, there is an imbalance of dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine, which are neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood.

Modifying our diet with foods that contain vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants can improve mental health for those with more than a case of the blues.

Whole Grains

Carbohydrates often get a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss, but they are useful for boosting our mood. Whole grains contain high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that is essential for the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is known to lift mood and relax the body, while melatonin is responsible for the regulation of our sleep cycle. Studies have shown diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, and even whole grains help reduce mood swings, anxiety and depression.


Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and protein. Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), are found in walnuts and pecans, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Dr. Barry Sears, president of the Inflammation Foundation, suggests choosing nuts in a raw state and with the most polyphenols will be highly effective.

“Almonds and walnuts would be good choices. It's more the magnesium in the nuts that promotes calmness,” he told Medical Daily.

Cashews are also a good option since they contain iron, magnesium, Vitamin B6, protein, and important amino acids and even omega 3 fats. Cashews contain tryptophan, which is critical for improving the uptake of serotonin in the brain, reducing feelings of depression.


Eating blueberries have been linked to reduced feelings of depression and anxiety because of their antioxidants. They’re also loaded with vitamin C, which helps lower cortisol, and therefore, anxiety. A recent study found eating blueberries could help reduce the genetic and biochemical drivers behind depression and suicidal tendencies in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Dairy products like yogurt and eggs are good dietary supplements for reducing depression and anxiety. Sears suggests choosing unsweetened yogurt because it has a good protein-to-carbohydrate ratio that would balance blood sugar levels. Feelings of anxiety are often linked to blood sugar levels dropping. Choosing Greek yogurt also helps since it’s a great source of protein, which helps produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine.

Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist, recommends patients drink milk, and eat cheese, yogurt, or ice-cream as an antidote to anxiety.

“Yes, there is truth to the ‘old saying' about drinking hot milk before bed! The ingredient tryptophan has a natural calming agent that actually relaxes you without medication. Tryptophan can be found in milk, all dairy products, and turkey,” she told Medical Daily.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate acts as a natural antidepressant, making us feel better because it contains tyrosine, which is linked to an increase of dopamine. Dopamine directly impacts our emotional well-being as it stimulates the pleasure centers in our brain. Cocoa in dark chocolate is known to facilitate the release of serotonin by relaxing the blood vessels in the brain. Moreover, dark chocolate releases endorphins, which allow us to feel happiness. This type of chocolate can also reduce cortisol levels to alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety.