Natural Foods to Combat Depression During the Holiday Season

chocolate, Coffee, depression, dietary fat, fish consumption, Gut Health, gut microbes, heart disease prevention, mental illness, Nutrition, omega 3's, stress

While the holiday season is jovial and celebratory for the majority of Americans, it can also be a source of despondency and despair for others. This is especially true for those afflicted with seasonal affective disorder or have great fear and anxiety leading to self-imposed travel restrictions in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

Fortunately, as of this writing, the most recent evidence suggests that if you’ve been vaccinated and “boosted”, the latter should be less of an overriding concern.

Nevertheless, as compared to the pre-COVID pandemic era, levels of depression and anxiety have also risen to unforseen heights.  With the Holiday Season upon us, presented below is a heart healthy selection of foods/drinks proven to enhance mood and combat/limit depression and make your holiday season a more enjoyable one.

  1. Mushrooms: A new study of nearly 25,000 men and women found that compared to non-consumers, those who ate mushrooms on a regular basis were less likely to experience signs of depression.  Mushrooms are an excellent source of ergothioneine (ERGO), an amino acid with antioxidant properties shown (in rodent studies) to alleviate symptoms of depression.  Other good food sources of ERGO are beans (black, kidney) and oat bran.
  2. Cranberries:  Cranberries are also rich in antioxidants and in the brain protective and anti-inflammatory compound ursolic acid.  Ursolic acid not only reduces growth of certain tumors but has also been shown to improve memory and reduce mood disorders, especially anxiety and depression. Try a handful of cranberries or 4 ounces of pure cranberry juice each day to reap the benefits.
  3. Prebiotics: Non-digestible carbohydrate foods (prebiotics) such as garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and onions, promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria to reduce neuroinflammation and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  4. Dark chocolate: A study of ~13,600 adults found that compared to non-consumers, daily consumption of dark chocolate (3.5 ounces) was associated with ~60% lower risk of depression.
  5. Coffee: Compared to minimal or no consumption, coffee drinkers have a 25% lower risk of depression. The most favorable results were observed with an average amount of 13.5 ounces consumed daily.
  6. Mediterranean Style Diet: A Mediterranean style diet (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish) is associated with improved mental health in men and women with depression.
  7. Kiwi: A recent study found that consuming a kiwifruit daily was associated with improved mood and overall well-being that was attributable to more than the high Vitamin C content.
  8. Bivalves: Mussels, oysters, clams and scallops are good/excellent sources of selenium associated with reduced depression and improved mood.
  9. Bananas: Bananas are an excellent source of Vitamin B6 with anti-anxiety, antidepressant properties. A banana a day may keep the psychiatrist away!
  10. Pumpkin Seeds: Try a small handful of pumpkin seeds daily. The rich content of tryptophan, zinc and magnesium may reduce anxiety and combat depression.

Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.  Check him out on twitter: @mmillermd1

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