7 Good-Mood Spring and Summer Foods for People With Depression

Can you eat your way to a better mood? Science suggests yes — filling up on certain healthy and delicious foods really may reduce symptoms of depression.

Certain nutrients in warm-weather foods like cucumbers, watermelon, cherries, and shrimp may ease depressive symptoms.

Although diet isn’t a cure for depression, a growing body of research suggests that certain nutrient-rich foods can help people with depression feel better. And, many of those foods are especially abundant in spring and summer.

Although exactly how food helps ease depression is not fully understood, the relationship makes a lot of sense considering that your body and brain need more than 40 nutrients and a million phytonutrients (plant nutrients) to function properly, explains Elizabeth Somer, RD, a dietitian in Salem, Oregon, and author of several books, including Food & Mood.

“We do know there are certain vitamins and minerals that support the pathways in our bodies that have been associated with a lower prevalence of depression, but we can’t say for sure that foods high in these vitamins and minerals will treat or prevent the disorder, which requires a multidisciplinary approach,” says Caroline West Passerello, RDN, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a faculty member in the Future Education Model Graduate Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Some nutrients that appear to play a role in depression are:

To reap the most health benefits, aim to get these nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, a nutrition author and dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Wellness and Preventive Medicine in Ohio.

Wondering which foods to choose? Here’s a closer look at seven warm-weather options that contain these nutrients, and why eating them as part of an overall treatment plan may ease depression.

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Watermelon Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties

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This sweet, summer staple is not only a great refreshing treat. “Watermelon is also an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects delicate brain tissue,” Somer says.

“Watermelon has more lycopene than tomatoes — up to 20 milligrams (mg) in each 2 cup serving,” she says. “The lycopene in watermelon helps lower the risk for inflammation associated with dementia and possibly depression.”

Beyond its lycopene content, watermelon is a great choice in place of treats high in sugar, says Kirkpatrick.

A diet high in added sugar is associated with an increased risk of depression. In fact, a 100 gram (g) increase per day is linked to a 28 percent higher risk for the condition, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011–2018.

“Many individuals tend to comfort themselves with sugar, which can have a negative impact on mental health,” Kirkpatrick explains. “Instead, watermelon is full of nutrients.”

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Shrimp Is High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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If you’re looking for an easy, mood-boosting meal, throw some shrimp on the barbecue. “Shrimp contain omega-3s, and studies say omega-3s may help ease depressive symptoms and smooth out moods,” says Zelana Montminy, PsyD, a behavioral scientist in Los Angeles.

Low levels of essential fatty acids like omega-3s in the body are associated with an increased risk of psychiatric illnesses like depression, according to a research review.

Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna.

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Bell Peppers Are Full of Fiber

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Kirkpatrick says 2.5 ounces (oz) of bell peppers (any color) pack a rich 2 grams (g) or so of fiber.

Why that’s important: Fiber consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of depression, says Kirkpatrick, citing a study that showed a connection between higher dietary fiber intake and lower depression among women experiencing premenopause.

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Corn Is a Super Healthy Carbohydrate

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Starchy vegetables like corn are considered high-quality carbohydrates full of fiber and nutrients, says Rachel Begun, RDN, a food and nutrition consultant and communications professional in the New York City area.

“So go ahead and enjoy that grilled corn on the cob and corn chowder, or mix the kernels into a black bean and corn salad, as beans are another high-quality carb that enhances mood levels,” Begun says.

Research shows that the quality of carbs in your diet is linked to depressive symptoms. Higher-quality carbs like corn are associated with decreased symptoms, whereas lower-quality carbs (think white bread, white rice, desserts, and chips) are tied to increased symptoms.

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Cherries May Boost Mood and Brain Power

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Cherries are rich in flavonoids, which are potentially protective against depression, says Toronto-based registered dietitian Andy De Santis, RD, MPH. Moderate intake of flavonoids may be associated with lower odds of depressive symptoms in women, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data.

“They are strong antioxidants that may reduce inflammation/damage in brain cells,” says De Santis. Focusing on flavonoid-rich foods like cherries may be a good, complementary approach for those looking to optimize brain health from a dietary perspective, he says.

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Asparagus Is Rich in Folate

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One of the yummiest spring vegetables, asparagus, is packed with an array of depression-fighting nutrients like folate, which is a B vitamin, as well as potassium and many other essential vitamins and minerals.

Folate may have antidepressant effects. A meta-analysis showed that people with depression have lower amounts of folate in their bodies and diets than people without depression.

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Cucumbers Help Keep You Hydrated

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Cucumbers are in ample supply in the warmer months, whether you grow your own or enjoy locally sourced ones from nearby farmer’s markets. And they’re actually bursting with health benefits. But one of the main reasons cucumbers may alleviate depressive symptoms is that they are made up mostly of water, which can help you stay hydrated when the weather is hot.

Research shows staying hydrated can help support your mental health — one study found an association between skimping on water and having a heightened depression risk.

Not to mention that cucumbers are also rich in B vitamins, which promote good mental health.

How Does Diet Play a Role in Depression? What Science Shows

“We have over a decade of data now on the field of nutritional psychiatry that shows a clear connection between our dietary choices and our mental health,” says Kirkpatrick.

Of course, diet is not the only factor. Experts believe potential causes of depression also include genetics, biological factors, and psychological factors, among others.

“Depression as a mood disorder does not have one direct cause and does not display a single set of symptoms among all who have it,” says Passerello.

That said, “even though mental health is very complex, we should not be surprised that a stronger dietary pattern is conducive to better mental health outcomes,” says De Santis.

In fact, research suggests that a change in diet may modify biologic factors that are tied to developing depression, says Passerello.

One link between diet and depression appears to involve the gut microbiota — bacteria and other microorganisms that occur naturally in your gut. A review article in the journal Nutrients showed that diet quality affects the gut microbiota, which in turn may influence a person's risk of depression.

“In a nutshell, diet may impact both gut microbiota, nutrients (or lack of), and inflammatory factors in the brain, all of which can have an impact on depression,” explains Kirkpatrick.

In addition, research such as the landmark SMILES Trial shows how dietary management strategies could play a role in managing depression. The findings demonstrated that receiving support from a registered dietitian to improve one’s diet helped improve depressive symptoms.

The Takeaway

Although diet can’t cure depression, research shows what you eat can boost your mood and help you feel better. Warm-weather foods like watermelon, shrimp, asparagus, and cherries are packed with nutrients that studies show are beneficial for depressive symptoms.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.

Resources

  • Hills RD et al. Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease. Nutrients. July 2019.
  • Jacka FN et al. A Randomised Controlled Trial of Dietary Improvement for Adults With Major Depression (the ‘SMILES’ Trial). BMC Medicine. January 30, 2017.
  • Gangwisch JE et al. High Glycemic Index Diet as a Risk Factor for Depression: Analyses From the Women’s Health Initiative. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. August 2015.
  • Hallahan B et al. Essential Fatty Acids and Mental Health. The British Journal of Psychology. April 2005.
  • Kim Y et al. Inverse Association Between Dietary Fiber Intake and Depression in Premenopausal Women: A Nationwide Population-Based Survey. Menopause. February 2021.
  • Chang SC et al. Dietary Flavonoid Intake and Risk of Incident Depression in Midlife and Older Women.?American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September 2016.
  • Bender A et al. The Association of Folate and Depression: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research. December 2017.
  • Haghighatdoost F et al. Drinking Plain Water Is Associated With Decreased Risk of Depression and Anxiety in Adults: Results From a Large Cross-Sectional Study. World Journal of Psychiatry. September 20, 2018.
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