While there are hundreds of articles, dietary strategies, government agencies and food manufacturers designed to offer information on how to fight disease and optimize your health, you may be surprised to find that before the featured study, none concentrated on brain health or mental disorders as recently as 2007.1
In September 2018, researchers reported the results of a study focused on finding the best foods to eat to help fight depression. Dr. Laura R. LaChance and a team from the University of Toronto, and Drew Ramsey from the department of psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, tackled the initiative. According to the study:
"A systematic literature review was conducted to derive a list of Antidepressant Nutrients from the 34 nutrients known to be essential for humans using level of evidence criteria.
Nutritional data was extracted for a subset of foods with a high content of at least (one) Antidepressant Nutrient using a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) database. These foods were analyzed for Antidepressant Nutrient density resulting in an Antidepressant Food Score (AFS)."2
The list of antidepressant foods based on the AFS3 is headed by watercress, the plant food with the highest score of 127 percent, with the highest animal-based food being oysters with a score of 56 percent, as you'll see below.
The prevalence of depressive disorders, as well as the potential expense and current state of inadequate management of such conditions, was the driver for developing the AFS. The researchers stressed that each of the top foods can be integrated into any type of eating plan.
You may notice that not all the foods are necessarily familiar to everyone throughout the world; people in the U.S., for example, especially historically, have not found bivalve foods or seafoods readily available, just as people in some areas may not have access to leafy greens or other vegetables.
However, availability doesn't always mean people avail themselves of the easy access to healthy foods; in fact, most of the adult population in the U.S. fails to meet the daily recommendations for vegetable intake. The Healthy People 2010 initiative, designed to increase vegetable consumption and other healthy habits, revealed that only 27.2 percent ate three or more servings per day.4
What Nutrients Fight Depression Best?
The scientists concluded that the top antidepressant nutrientsshould be considered when other researchers design future intervention studies, and by clinicians developing dietary options to help prevent depression. Their top 12 antidepressant nutrients deemed best for such disorders were:
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)
The Prevalence of Mental Illnesses and a 'Recipe' for Hope
LaChance and Ramsey’s study noted that among people aged 15 through 44 years, mental conditions, including depression, are the leading cause of disability worldwide. Increasing treatment options, including by considering “antidepressant” foods, should be “imperative” for dealing with the growing number of people struggling with such issues. Further:
"A growing evidence base, including the first randomized controlled trial, suggests that dietary pattern and food choice may play a role in the treatment and prevention of brain-based disorders, particularly depression … They recommend following a traditional dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet … and avoiding processed foods, for example those high in refined carbohydrate or sugar.
Furthermore, an international consortium of mental health and nutrition researchers recently recommended 'nutritional psychiatry' become a routine part of mental health clinical practice."5
The basis for their research was centered, in part, around a meta-analysis6 involving scientists from Australia, Spain, Finland, the U.K. and France. Its aim was to address such disorders through dietary recommendations, along with a randomized controlled trial from 2017, dubbed “SMILES"7 (Supporting the Modification of Lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States).
SMILES, incidentally, involved the collaborative efforts of multiple experts from centers based in neuroscience, psychiatric, dietary, medical and other research centers throughout Australia. It concluded with the premise that "dietary improvement may provide an efficacious and accessible treatment strategy for the management of this highly prevalent mental disorder."8
It also noted that addressing the association between what a person eats and what they don’t would very likely impact the number of related deaths. However, the idea for nutritional psychiatry becoming a “routine part of mental health clinical practice” came from LaChance’s and Ramsey’s use of Lancet Psychiatry’s fundamental observation:
"Evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.
Evidence is steadily growing for the relation between dietary quality (and potential nutritional deficiencies) and mental health, and for the select use of nutrient-based supplements to address deficiencies, or as monotherapies or augmentation therapies."9