Running Low on These Nutrients Could Trigger a Mood Disorder

Think the food you eat has nothing to do with the mood you're in? Think again. The following key vitamins and minerals could have a big impact on depression, anxiety, and more.

Food and your mood

Moody yong woman sitting at homeDmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

There’s little question that your emotions are influenced by what you eat. “Brain health and our mental health depend on certain key nutrients, like B12 and omega-3 fats,” says clinical psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD. “Eating an American/Western diet almost doubles the risk of depression in large research trials, while a more traditional or Mediterranean pattern cuts the risk of clinical depression by 40-50 percent.” Indeed, an article in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry suggests nutrition can play a crucial part in the severity and duration of depression: “Nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions.” Getting enough of these key nutrients from your diet could prevent you from developing a mood disorder.


This important mineral helps your body’s immune system fight viruses and bacteria, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements. But it also impacts mental health. “Zinc has been used as a treatment for mood disorders, specifically depression and anxiety,” says Torey Armul, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Recommended daily intake is 9 mg for women and 11 mg for men, says Armul, who adds that good sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Also make sure you’re eating these foods proven to put you in a good mood.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3’s are important to your immune system, endocrine system, lungs, heart, and blood vessels, according to the NIH. In addition, omega-3 fats are linked to improved mood and brain function, Armul points out. “The body can’t make omega-3 fats on its own, so it must get them through diet. Unfortunately, most diets are severely lacking in this healthy fat,” Armul says, adding that women should aim for 1.1 grams per day, and men should try for 1.6. Good sources are salmon, tuna, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola oil.

Vitamin D

You really need to know the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, because falling short on this crucial nutrient is hard on your body and mind, potentially contributing to a mood disorder. Research has identified vitamin D receptors on cells in brain regions associated with depression, writes James M. Greenblatt, MD in Psychology Today, adding that studies also suggest the depressive symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) could be due to dipping levels of vitamin D. He points to various studies supporting the link between mental illness and D deficiency, including research from the Netherlands that found low D levels correlated with depression symptoms in adults. The body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, according to the NIH, but this nutrient could also be consumed through supplements and foods like fatty fish and fortified dairy. The recommended daily amount varies by age, with infants 12 months old and younger needing 400 IU, and adults 19-70 years old needing 600 IU.

Vitamin B

Foods of Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin). Healthy diet eating. Top viewbitt24/Shutterstock

A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry notes that,Depression, dementia, and mental impairment are often associated with vitamin B12 and folate deficiency, especially in the elderly.” Vitamin B12 is found in lots of foods, including beef liver, clams, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, as well as multivitamins and supplements, says the NIH. Recommended daily amounts vary with age: Infants six months and younger need .4 mcg, while adults need 2.4 mcg. Don’t miss these other vitamins that can help treat depression.


This vitamin could play a big role in the development of a mood disorder, according to an Indian Journal of Psychiatry article. The authors point to findings that patients suffering from depression had blood folate levels an average of 25 percent lower than healthy individuals. “Depressive symptoms are the most common neuropsychiatric manifestation of folate deficiency,” they wrote. Many foods naturally contain folate, including asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy vegetables, oranges, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, whole grains, and fortified cold cereals. Infants six months and younger should get 65 mcg a day, while adults aged 19-70 should aim for 400.


The thyroid gland plays a role in many important body functions, like your metabolism, immune response, and brain function. For the thyroid to work properly, it demands iodine, explains Healthy Holistic Sources of this nutrient include iodized salt, fish, and dairy products; the NIH recommends adults consume 150 mcg daily.


Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is crucial to mood, which is why it’s a target for many antidepressant medications, says Armul. To make serotonin, you need an amino acid called tryptophan, and you can get that from protein-rich foods such as poultry, nuts, and dairy. Folate-containing foods like leafy greens, beans, and lentils also support serotonin, she adds.


In some children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, iron deficiency can play a role, write the authors of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry article. Low iron (anemia) may also be linked to depression. Fortunately, you can get iron from many sources, including foods such as lean meat, poultry, seafood, and fortified cereals, as well as supplements. Adult men aged 19-50 should aim for 8 mg of iron daily, and adult women aged 19-50 need 18 mg.

The big picture

Focusing on individual vitamins and minerals can help, says Armul, but you really need to make sure you’re eating a healthy and complete diet. A 2015 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found young adults who ate more fruits and vegetables reported greater well-being, as well as more curiosity and creativity, as opposed to people who ate fewer fruits and veggies. “If you’re hoping to boost your mood with lifestyle habits,” Armul says, “the best approach is to eat more overall fruits and vegetables, reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates, and get more exercise.” For more tips, check out these science-backed ways to overcome depression naturally.

Popular Videos