Depressed woman sitting on a chair and staring out of a window.

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There are many factors, such as genetics and hormones, that can contribute to a person’s risk of experiencing anxiety and depression. However, many studies are now also finding that your diet may actually have a huge impact on your mental health.

Avocado, egg, and tomato salad dish on a table with leftover ingredients on the side.
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A new report published in the World Journal of Psychology has found that certain foods can actually help prevent and treat brain-crelated disorders, especially in the case of depression.

The study conducted a review of 34 nutrients and focused specifically on 12 that claim to have a positive effect on these mental health (omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, vitamin B12, folate, zinc, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, and vitamin B6).

Top down view of an assortment of healthy foods on a cutting board and in a bowl.
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What this particular study and most others are now concluding is that, when viewed as a holistic approach, rather than looking at each nutrient alone, diet can be hugely impactful in helping individuals prevent and manage feelings of stress, depression, helplessness and anxiety.

All of the vitamins and minerals in our diet interact with one another in complex ways and serve as further evidence of the undeniable connection between the mind and body. Therefore, in order to extend self-care towards healing your mind, you must also nurture your body, and vice versa.

The overall consensus? Avoiding sugar, salt, trans fats, coffee and alcohol, while eating a balanced diet high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and lean protein is hands down the best recipe for managing periods of stress, anxiety or depression.

Of course, it is essential to seek professional medical treatment when struggling with mental health concerns, but when combined with proper treatment, these top 15 mood-boosting foods can help keep you feeling happy, healthy and balanced:

Kale and fruit salad in a bowl on a table with a fork.
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1. Leafy Greens

The undisputed winner when it comes to anxiety and depression-fighting foods are leafy greens. Consistently ranked at the top of the list, leafy greens like kale, arugula, spinach, watercress, mustard greens, and swiss chard are must-haves in any mental health-based diet.

These nutrient-rich greens are full of mood-boosting vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and folate (a water-soluble B vitamin). Foods with significant amounts of folate have been shown to increase serotonin levels, a mood-enhancing hormone whose levels are often too low in sufferers of anxiety or depression.

One study conducted by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that, out of a survey of 400 young adults (ages 18-25), participants consuming the greatest amount of raw fruits and vegetables reported higher levels of happiness and positivity, with fewer mental illness symptoms overall.

An avocado cut in half sitting on cutting board.
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2. Avocado

Gone are the days of avoiding fats in our diet altogether! We now know that brain-healthy fats found in foods such as avocado are essential for healthy cognitive functioning and may also help diminish symptoms of depression and anxiety. “Our brain is about 60% fat and we need to get our fat from a dietary source,” says nutritionist Melissa Brunetti.

Not only do avocados provide the brain with essential healthy fats, but they are also wonderful sources of folate, tryptophan and omega-3, all of which are now believed to help improve feelings of well-being, reduce inflammation, and improve healthy brain function.

Avocados are most definitely one superfood that you don’t want to miss out on when following a happiness-boosting meal plan!

Cut up pieces of dark chocolate on white background.
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3. Dark Chocolate

As if we needed another reason to love dark chocolate! There is a long-standing association between dark chocolate and its’ powerful abilities to effectively lower stress and anxiety. Simply put, chocolate makes you feel good!

Packed with antioxidants, tryptophan, magnesium, and high levels of polyphenols (especially flavonoids), dark chocolate (consisting of at least 70% cacao) has been linked to improved blood flow, less depressive feelings, reduced neuroinflammation, and increased serotonin production.

Circle of stacked bananas.
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4. Bananas

According to the Health Extremist, bananas are natural beta-blockers and can gradually reduce anxiety by preventing adrenaline from fusing with beta receptors. These fruits are also rich in magnesium and the amino acid tyrosine, both of which produce dopamine, the “feel good” hormone responsible for monitoring your brain’s reward and pleasure centers. This, in turn, helps decrease overall stress levels and improve your mood.

Bananas are also famously known to aid digestion and ease gastrointestinal issues brought on by anxiety or stress through their natural antacid effect.

With high levels of vitamin B to assist with calming the nervous system, and equally high levels of potassium to lower blood pressure when your metabolic rate rises, bananas are an anxiety-fighting superfood staple.

An assortment of fermented food sitting on a table.
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5. Fermented Foods

Did you know that the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin is actually produced in the gut? Since healthy serotonin levels are crucial for easing any brain-related disorder, maintaining proper gut health is vital for managing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Fermented foods containing live yeast and bacteria (better known as probiotics), such as kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir can help to ease digestional issues, soothe gut inflammation, and provide the correct amounts of healthy bacteria required to keep your gut, and therefore your mood, positive and symptom-free.

Woman holding blueberries with both of her hands cupped together.
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6. Blueberries (and other berries)

High levels of inflammation in the body are often seen to be the culprit behind many mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

Antioxidant-packed berries such as blueberries can help by providing a wonderful source of polyphenols, a natural anti-inflammatory that may help your body to recover from the daily stresses in life. These berries are also rich in vitamin C, which aids in repairing and protecting your cells when the body is under stress.

Easily added to smoothies, salads and cereals, blueberries consistently rank high on the list of depression-busting foods and are a simple addition to any meal plan.

Lentils and other vegetables mixed in a bowl.
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7. Legumes

The balance of fiber, protein and healthy carbs found in legumes work to keep your blood sugar levels stable, preventing dreaded spikes that can negatively affect your mood (AKA ‘hangry’).

These incredible depression-fighting foods are loaded with mood-balancing iron, zinc, phytates, folate and potassium, and include beans such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, and pinto beans.

Legumes are also naturally low in sodium and saturated fat, making them the perfect satisfying addition to any mental health-focused dinner!

Almonds in a dish along with other vegetables on the side.
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8. Nuts

Another popular staple of the brain-healthy Mediteranean diet are nuts such as almonds and brazil nuts. Nuts make the perfect on-the-go snack and serve as an excellent source of healthy fats to support healthy brain function.

They are full of vitamin E and free-radical fighting antioxidants such as selenium, which has been shown to aid in treating anxiety. Foods rich in selenium can help reduce cell damage and inflammation in the body often brought on by mood disorders. Some studies now suggest a link between depression and low levels of tyrosine and vitamin E, which can be found in high amounts in both almonds and avocados.

Baked cinnamon sweet potato in a bowl.
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 9. Sweet Potato

Carotenoids, the antioxidant responsible for giving sweet potatoes their bright orange color, may also be a powerful mood enhancer. One study conducted in Italy over a span of six years found a link between reported symptoms of depression and low levels of carotenoids.

Sweet potatoes are also an incredible source of fiber, as well as vitamin C, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and many depression-fighting B vitamins such as B6. Diets high in fiber have been shown to positively boost feelings of well-being by increasing the diversity of healthy microbiota, or “good bacteria” in the system.

Olive oil amongst other kitchen supplies and dishware on a kitchen table.
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 10. Olive Oil

Olive oil contains high levels of monosaturated fats and is the cooking base for the Mediteranean Diet, an exceptionally healthy diet famously known for its cognitive-boosting abilities.

Due to its high percentage of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats from sources such as olive oil and nuts, a Mediteranean-style diet is widely accepted as the best diet for treating anxiety and depression.

Olive oil is also packed full of brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, an amino acid with potent anti-inflammatory abilities, as well as phytonutrients and antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenols, and  anthocyanidins.

Salmon cut in half sitting on a cutting board next to vegetables.
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 11. Salmon

Also at the top of the antidepressant food rankings list are fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and herring.

Incredibly rich in omega-3, a fatty acid with strong ties to mental health and cognitive functioning, salmon provides two essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) vital for reducing inflammation in the brain, regulating neurotransmitters and hormones, and promoting healthy brain function.

One study recently found a 17% lower risk of depression in participants eating the most fish, versus those eating the least.

Yogurt serving in a cup with sliced fruits on a cutting board.
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 12. Yogurts

Yogurts that contain healthy bacteria, specifically Lactobaccilus and Bifidobacteria, serve as wonderful sources of probiotics and can support healthy gut function. Similarly to other fermented products, probiotic yogurts can have a large impact on the state of your mental health due to the close connection between your gut and brain.

Some studies also claim that dairy products such as yogurt can help reduce chronic inflammation in the body, one factor responsible for stress, anxiety and depression. Be sure to opt for healthful yogurt options low in sugar when choosing the best option for you!

lthy bacteria, specifically Lactobaccilus and Bifidobacteria, serve as wonderful sources of probiotics and can support healthy gut function. Similarly to other fermented products, probiotic yogurts can have a large impact on the state of your mental health due to the close connection between your gut and brain.

Some studies also claim that dairy products such as yogurt can help reduce chronic inflammation in the body, one factor responsible for stress, anxiety and depression. Be sure to opt for healthful yogurt options low in sugar when choosing the best option for you!

Asparagus on a cutting board.
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 13. Asparagus

This green veggie is an incredibly healthy source of fiber, iron, folate, copper, protein, calcium, and antioxidants such as anthocyanins. High levels of the B vitamin folate found in asparagus are particularly helpful to those suffering from anxiety and depression, as it has often been shown to improve feelings of happiness and reduce irritability. A rich source of the amino acid tryptophan, asparagus contains a wide variety of nutrients associated with general happiness and a calm state of mind.

A dish served with Turmeric spice.
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 14. Turmeric

A common cooking spice in India and South-East Asia, turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant with countless benefits for the mind and body that is often coined the “most effective nutritional supplement in existence.”

Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has been used for thousands of years as a medical herb and spice, and has been said to possess amazing abilities to delay or even reverse many brain-related illnesses.

One six week-study found that patients treated with curcumin reported similar improvements to patients taking the antidepressant Prozac, and patients treated with both showed the most substantial improvements.

Sliced boiled egg on avocado toast.
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15. Eggs

High in vitamin D and omega-3, eggs provide a complete source of protein, as well as all of the essential amino acids needed for optimal mental health.

One powerful amino acid in particular known as tryptophan has been shown in studies to help increase production of the “feel good” chemical serotonin.

Serotonin-stimulating foods are always key when it comes to battling anxiety and depression due to its essential role in regulating behavior, mood, memory, and sleep.

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