Affordable Foods to Beat Depression

Date Posted

December 12, 2022


Lindsay Schwartz

Woman Cooking Food in Kitchen

We all know that good nutrition is important for physical and mental health. But it can be confusing to make sense of so much advice and information. It seems like every day, there is a headline about some new “power food.” Social media ads bombard us with links to the latest diet gimmicks, all of which promise to help you look and feel your best. Here is what you need to know about eating for brain health, including affordable foods to beat depression!

The brain-gut connection and probiotics

Recent researchFood, Yogurt indicates a connection between depression and bacteria in the gut. This is because gastrointestinal bacteria act as chemical messengers to the brain. People with major depressive disorder are more likely to have a deficit of key bacteria. Fortunately, this imbalance is treatable with probiotics. A 2010, double-blind study showed that treatment with probiotics significantly lowered subjects’ reports of psychological distress.

Probiotics are naturally found in a variety of affordable foods, including yogurt, pickles, and cottage cheese.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Food, bowls of walnuts and nut crackerOmega-3’s are a type of “good fat” that is essential for heart and brain health. A 2012 meta-analysis of 13 studies found that omega 3’s significantly reduced depressive symptoms. Omega 3’s are not naturally produced by the body, so the only way to get omega 3’s is through your diet.

Some foods that are naturally high in omega 3’s are salmon, tuna fish, canola oil, walnuts, and leafy greens. Other foods are fortified with omega 3’s such as eggs, milk, bread, and juice– check the label if you are unsure!

Vitamin D

Food, Glass of orange juice and orangesVitamin D deficiency is a global issue affecting 1 billion people. Vitamin D deficiency can cause symptoms of depression such as fatigue, low energy, and insomnia. Our bodies synthesize vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but many of us do not get enough sunlight, especially in the dark winter months.

Many of the foods that are rich in omega 3’s are also good sources of vitamin D, for example, tuna fish and salmon. In addition, milk and orange juice are often fortified with vitamin D.


Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause cellular damage associated with illness and aging. Research shows that our brains are particularly vulnerable to free radicals.  Antioxidants counteract the damaging effects of free radicals.

You can find antioxidants in a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, tomato sauce, and sweet potatoes.


Fresh or frozen?

People often assume that fresh food is better for them, but this is not true! In fact, a 2017 study found that some frozen produce is even more nutritious than its fresh equivalent. This is because fresh fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutritional value when they are refrigerated and stored. So, don’t be afraid to load up on frozen spinach, berries, or whatever produce you most prefer! Your brain and your budget will thank you.

Whether preparing food for yourself (caregivers need fuel!) or your loved one, remember these affordable options.

Lindsay Schwartz is a psychotherapist in private practice in Acton, MA, where she specializes in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. She has a background in school counseling and a special interest in mindfulness-based treatments.  Lindsay earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English from Williams College, and her Master’s degree in Social Work from Simmons College. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys writing, reading, running, and spending time with her husband and 2 children.