Diet and Depression

Because there are so many factors that affect mental health, the potential connection of diet to depression is hard to determine. There are, however, a number of theories related to the effects that our diet has on the brain and the development of depression.

Nutrient Deficiencies

According to the Textbook of Natural Medicine, many nutrient deficiencies can result in depression. Research demonstrates that deficiencies in vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, and folic acid are linked to depression and other emotional disorders.

Another theory links symptoms such as depression, agitation, confusion, and disorientation to a magnesium deficiency. It is thought that a deficiency in magnesium causes impairment in the function of neurotransmitters in the brain, causing symptoms of depression. According to one study, the average American diet supplies only 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance for magnesium.


A subject of intense debate is the connection between the artificial sweetener, Aspartame (NutraSweet), and imbalances in brain chemistry. Although some researchers maintain that Aspartame is absolutely safe, there are many who have a radically different opinion.

Some researchers believe that the amino acids in Aspartame can cause an imbalance in brain chemistry when they are metabolized by the body, causing symptoms of depression as well as a number of other conditions. Advocates of the artificial sweetener state that Aspartame has been more widely studied than most food additives and has been proven to be absolutely safe.

If you are severely depressed, you may want to try to limit your intake of this sweetener. Most foods containing Aspartame are also heavily processed and do not fit into a natural, whole foods diet. Although Aspartame may be completely safe, it will certainly do you no harm to decide to avoid it.


Sugar intake is also a subject of intense debate. Some state that sugar provides calories for the body, with little nutritional value, but does not have any significant negative health effects. However, others link excessive sugar intake to a number of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity, reduced immune system response, and heart disease to name a few. Many believe that allergies to sugar can cause personality and behavior problems, as well as nervousness, fatigue, confusion, and depression. Other researchers believe that processed sugar pulls vitamins and minerals from the body, leading to nutritional deficiencies.

Again, if you are depressed, you may want to evaluate your total intake of processed sugar. If you are maintaining a natural, whole foods diet, your intake of these sugars naturally will be limited.

Dietary Recommendations for Depression

The most important dietary rules to follow to promote mental and physical health are:

  • Eat a variety of different foods
  • Don’t overeat
  • Eat unprocessed, whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Restrict intake of caffeine and alcohol