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Top Foods To Fight Depression

mood learning & behaviour nutrients & supplements parenting

For many years now, depression and anxiety have topped the list of mental health issues faced by children and young adults.

70% of the time, adults report that their mood instability started in childhood. I suspect, given what we know now about the biological roots of mental health and the impact of a child's diet on their mental wellness later in life, that number is actually way higher.

Back in 2018 a very helpful paper was published in The World Journal of Psychiatry. The researchers behind it knew from clinical experience that what we eat affects our mood and behavior, but they wanted to know which specific nutrients were most important. That way they could start to create a framework for clinicians to be able to integrate a food-as-medicine approach into mainstream psychiatry.

Since it was a "study" they needed to follow the rules and distil down their question. So they decided to investigate, "which foods are the most nutrient dense sources of nutrients demonstrated by the scientific literature to play a role in the prevention and promotion of recovery from depressive disorders."

Before I summarize for you what these foods and nutrients are that prevent and recover people from depression, let me tell you this.... depression, anxiety, memory problems, slow learning, OCD, aggression, ODD, hyperactivity... they're all often different faces of the same underlying issues. 

Medical research is revealing that they all have similar biological roots -- nutrient deficiency, inflammation, gut issues. 

Psychology research reveals that they can have similar psychological roots -- trauma, lack of purpose, lack of attachment.

Resilience - our capacity to grow from stress rather than become incapacitated by it - is as much biological as it is psychological

So if you're here because you feel you're giving your child all the love, care and social support you can but they're still struggling with mood and behavior, and if you want to try something other than prescribed medication to turn that around, it's time to explore their biology.

Read more about the how to do that here.

Now, back to the study on foods that fight depression.

12 nutrients were found to be the heavy hitters when it comes to prevention and treatment of depressive disorders. They are:

  1. Folate,
  2. Iron,
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA),
  4. Magnesium,
  5. Potassium,
  6. Selenium,
  7. Thiamine (B1)
  8. Vitamin A,
  9. Vitamin B6,
  10. Vitamin B12,
  11. Vitamin C,
  12. Zinc

There are no surprises in that list.

What we have here are nutrients that:

  • act as anti-inflammatories (coax the body out of an inflammatory state)
  • are anti-oxidants (scavengers that clean up the mess caused by stress)
  • feed our mitochondria (energy production centres that need to work overtime when we're under stress)
  • work alongside amino acids to create and transport neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (chemicals that affect how we feel).

But it's nice to have a list, right?

What about food?

Before you go out and spend a fortune on supplements, remember that we don't eat nutrients. We eat foods; delightful little packages from mother nature that offer our bodies everything they need to function well. Miraculous if you think about it. 

This is why I love to imagine a future where parents are really coached around how to nourish their kids for resilient health.

I know you're doing the best you can. I know you have a gazillion roadblocks in your way. But the capacity to deeply nourish our kids has somehow slipped away in the chaos of our busy lives. And too often when we decide it's time to start remembering what we once knew to be true, we get blocked from every direction by people and circumstances.

Well, with the rising levels of mood issues we're seeing now and given what we know about the food connection, it's high time to bring nourishment back to the front and centre. That's my opinion, anyhow.

The study on foods that fight depression did look at foods (thankfully), not just nutrients. Foods were rated in terms of the density they offered of the nutrients on their list.

The highest scoring animal foods were: bivalves such as oysters and mussels, various seafoods, and organ meats

The highest scoring plant foods were: leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables.

Now having worked with children for as long as I have, it's interesting to me that those foods are also among the top foods parents report having a hard time getting into their kids, especially if they're picky

But it's still nice to have a list. 

The Bottom Line

What our kids eat affects how they think, feel, behave and function. If you feel you're giving your child all the psychological support you can but they're still struggling, it's time to explore their biology.

There are THREE areas to explore: Nutrients, Inflammation, Digestion. Start with nourishment.

If you can't get foods into them, you can start with supplements. But work the system... it's not a magic pill you're after here. It's resilient health. That'll take time and persistence.

They can feel better. You can do this.

Related Blog Posts


LaChance, Laura R, and Drew Ramsey. “Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression.” World journal of psychiatry vol. 8,3 97-104. 20 Sep. 2018, doi:10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.97 

About Jess Sherman, FDN-P, M.Ed, R.H.N

Jess is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and a trauma informed Family Health Educator specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. Her Calm & Clear Kids™ introductory course, her signature Resilience Roadmap™,  along with her book Raising Resilience, have helped families in 44 countries improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders without relying on medication. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to bring an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses, workshops and as a contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at 

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The content on this website and in the guides and courses offered here is meant to provide information so that parents can make informed decisions and discuss these issue with their health care teams. It is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or individualized care.