8 of My Favorite Foods to Help Fight Depression

Table of Contents
  1. Sardines
  2. Kefir Smoothie
  3. Olive oil
  4. Cashews
  5. Dark chocolate
  6. Oven roasted potatoes
  7. Sauteed greens and garlic
  8. Kombucha

I wanted to go over a few of the foods that I find myself always talking about with patients. I’m one of the leaders in nutritional psychiatry which is the use of food and nutrition to optimize brain health and to treat and prevent mental health disorders. Nutrition is not the only thing you need to take care of for your mental health. Mental health is a lot of work, but nutrition has got to be something you get right. If you’re not getting the right nourishment for your mental health, it’s so much harder to feel your best.


So the first food, which can be a challenging one, is sardines. Sardines are a small oily fish. Omega 3 fats are good for the brain and mental health. I steer my patients towards this source of omega 3 fats, sardines. Also they give you lots of B12, they are a complete protein, and it’s one of the top sources of calcium. Sardines are a very nutrient dense food but they can be tricky. There’s a great recipe I have called Gnocchi a la Glenda, which is basically some tomato paste, pine nuts, garlic, and sardines. It really ends up not tasting very fishy at all. Put that over some gnocchi and it’s a great meal.

Kefir Smoothie

The next food is a kefir smoothie. Kefir is a fermented dairy product and it has more colony forming units of bacteria than really any other fermented food I’ve been able to find and that’s why I put kefir in my smoothie. Increasingly we know that mental health and gut health are really quite related and to improve our gut health in general, most people want to eat more fermented foods and more plants. So this is a great way to get a really solid fermented food, a kefir smoothie. I have one I like that is made with banana, some kefir and cinnamon. I’ve got lots of recipes in my cookbooks for smoothies, like in Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, which has the peanut buttercup smoothie which is one of my favorites.

Olive oil

The next great food for your mental health that you should have in your kitchen and which should be the main fat that you’re cooking with is a good quality olive oil. Why is that? Because at the core of eating for mental health is eating more plants, more fiber, and a lot of folks struggle with how to do that and oven roasting vegetables or sauteeing vegetables in olive oil is a great way for you to get more of those foods. Olive oil itself is very healthy. It’s a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid and consumption of oleic acid is correlated with a decreased risk of depression over a 10 year period. So it’s a powerful fat that has lots of good antioxidants in there along with some vitamin E, which is a very important vitamin for brain health.


Next food on my list would be cashews. It’s really important to start snacking on nuts. A lot of people are scared of nuts feeling that they’re a high caloric food, but nuts, first of all, have 25% fewer calories than what is listed on the package. The USDA issued a statement a few years ago about this and also nuts are just naturally satiating. They are this nice mix of a little bit of protein, some fat and slow burning carbs and fiber. Cashews have more iron than most other nuts. There’s a little natural sweetness to them and I just find it’s a great thing to eat as a snack in your trail mixes, drop in your yogurt, put in your smoothies.

Dark chocolate

Next up on my list would be dark chocolate. Now dark chocolate has a reputation for boosting our mood and it’s actually based on some science. There are these very powerful phytonutrients in dark chocolate that have been shown in some scientific studies at high concentrations to help with age related memory decline.

It’s important to make sure you’re eating dark chocolate without pralines or caramel filling. We’re looking for solid dark chocolate bars with more than 70 per percent cacao. You’re also getting iron, you’re getting fiber, you’re getting magnesium, so again, it’s a nutrient dense food. It’s a great way to make sure that there’s sweetness in your life and pleasure. A big tenet of nutritional psychiatry is that as you’re eating, you’re eating with a sense that you’re feeding your mental health. You’re nourishing yourself and you’re eating with pleasure and joyfulness.

Oven roasted potatoes

The next food on my list might surprise you but it’s played a big role in making me feel well and getting enough potassium, which are oven roasted potatoes. Again, I am using olive oil, some garlic, maybe a little bit of seasoning like oregano or even a little curry. Oven roasting potatoes is a nice way to eat them for a number of reasons. Potatoes have a bad rap but they are high in starch and if you cool them, they’re high in resistant starch, which decreases the effect on your blood sugar. They are also high in potassium. Potassium is one of those unheralded nutrients that I’m a really big fan of, and so potatoes along with bananas and white beans are a great place to get those.

Sauteed greens and garlic

Next up on our list of great foods for you to be eating for your mental health is sauteed greens and garlic. This is a really easy, fast, go-to way to get lots of nutrition. Greens are packed with nutrients: folate, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A. It’s a lot of nutrition packed into not a lot of calories. A cup of greens usually has between 10 to 30 calories. So sauteing them in olive oil with some garlic is a great way to get more greens in your life. They also store really well in the fridge add you can add them to just about anything and you’re improving the nutrient density.


Lastly, this final food is important because so often when people are struggling with their mood or struggling with anxiety, what do folks reach for? Alcohol. Alcohol in the short term can be effective. It soothes anxiety right away for people. So if you have an irritable or agitated depression, alcohol can help you feel a little more calm and in control. Alcohol gives you a little bit of a euphoria and mood boost initially before the night goes wrong. So when people are down, they often seek alcohol. And because of that, oftentimes there’s more drinking than there should be when people are struggling with their mood. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant so it really is a headwind if you’re struggling with your mood. That’s why I swapped out alcohol and encourage people to try swap out alcohol for kombucha.

Kombucha is a fermented tea. So there are lots of interesting antioxidants in there. It’s a fermented food so again, we’re getting lots of live bacteria into our gut. Kombucha has a little bit of alcohol so if you have a true alcohol use disorder, make sure to look for an alcohol free kombucha. It has really low levels of alcohol, about 0.5% or 1%. There are all kinds of different flavors and I find that it’s a nice swap because you’re feeding your gut, you’ve got a tasty treat and you’re swapping out something that can be really harmful for your mood.

Those are eight of my favorites. I hope you’ll list some of your favorites in the comments below!

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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  1. Thanks Dr.Ramsey, Great Advice,I would like to ask which Packed in tinSardines Brands are good to Buy.
    My suggestion will be Blueberries, Strawberries and Black Berrires are good for Mood.

    1. Those are great suggestions! Sardines in olive oil contain more omega-3 than sardines packed in water, but any sardines you can find that you enjoy are a great start! We like the brand vital choice, but the less barriers to getting these foods in your diet, the better!

  2. can you use canned sardines? I get headaches from cashews. Are walnuts or almonds a good alternative? Can you make the potatoes in the microwave and get the same nutritive value? What is a reasonable size piece of dark chocolate. I am trying to keep down my blood sugar (not a diabetic) and try not to eat too many sweets. Thanks for you column. I enjoy reading it. Roxann

    1. Hi Roxann, we’re so glad you are enjoying the blog post. You can definitely use canned sardines. Walnuts and almonds are great alternatives to cashews, we definitely don’t want to encourage you to eat foods that you know are harmful for you. The microwave is an easy and fast way to make a potato and we definitely want to encourage folks to prepare food in ways that don’t add any stress! When you buy dark chocolate you can choose brands that are low in sugar, you can also get the benefits from adding cacao nibs or unsweetened cocao powder which you can add to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal and other meals.

    1. Yes! Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, chard and watercress are a great place to start. Also, nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, black beans, chickpeas. There are also dairy-free kefirs out there that have probiotics in them. Another option is kombucha. Best of luck!

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