A growing body of research shows that certain vitamins, minerals and foods may reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Nutritional psychiatrists believe the connection between nutrition and mental health can be found in your gut, more specifically, to the bacteria that grow in the gut (stomach, intestines and colon). There are good and bad gut bacteria (totaling about 100 trillion). The human body needs certain types of “good” bacteria, known as probiotics, to keep the digestive system healthy and fight the bad bacteria.

Sometimes, the bad bacteria outnumber the good. This imbalance causes inflammation and impacts your brain’s melatonin and serotonin levels, which can increase your risk for anxiety or depression.

12 Key Nutrients

Psychiatrist Drew Ramsey,MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and Psychiatrist Laura LaChance, MD, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, identified 12 key nutrients that can help manage anxiety and depression:

  • Folate (vitamin B9)
  • Iron
  • Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1)
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc

12 Key Foods

If that list seems overwhelming, there’s good news. You can find all of them nutrients in everyday foods. Dr. Ramsey and Psychiatrist Uma Naido, MD, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, compiled the following list.

  • Beans. Small red beans, for example, contain B vitamins, iron, magnesium and thiamine.
  • Fermented foods. Foods such as kimchi and pickles contain probiotics.
  • Fruits. Avocados and berries, for example have B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C.
  • Leafy greens. Spinach and kale contain B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A and E.
  • Legumes. Lentils have B vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc.
  • Meats. Go with grass-fed beef and organ meats, which contain B vitamins, iron, vitamin A and zinc.
  • Nuts and seeds. Cashews and walnuts, for example, have B vitamins, magnesium, omega-3 fats, selenium and vitamin E. Chia and sunflower seeds contain magnesium, omega-3 fats, vitamins B1 and E, and zinc.
  • Oils. Try olive and fish oil, which contain omega-3 fats and vitamin E.
  • Seafood. Foods such as anchovies, clams, and wild salmon contain B vitamins, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fats, selenium and zinc.
  • Seeds. Spices. Ginger and turmeric contain magnesium and vitamins B1, B6, C and E.
  • Whole grains. Farro, quinoa and wild rice have iron, magnesium, selenium, vitamin B1 and zinc.

Get the Help You Need

It’s important to keep in mind that these foods are only a small part of a successful treatment plan. Good sleep habits, regular exercise and talking with a professional all factor into your mental health, among other things.

The bottom line? If you think you have symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk with your primary care doctor, who can work with you to create a treatment plan that meets your needs.

Find a doctor.

Related Reading

Beans, kale, walnuts, and more: The 12 foods that can help manage anxiety and depression
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