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Feeling Blue? Eat More of This

Certain foods make you feel energized, bloated, or tired. But as it happens, your diet can also affect your mood. People who eat foods rich in folate and vitamin B12 are less likely to experience certain symptoms of depression, according to a new Finnish study.

Researchers examined 12-month food-frequency questionnaires of 2,840 Finnish adults, then evaluated the participants’ depression symptoms with a standard 21-question survey. Compared to those who ate diets with the lowest amount of folate and vitamin B12, people with the highest intake of these vitamins were significantly less likely to report sadness, irritability, changes in sleep and appetite, and other symptoms of melancholic depression (MD) triggered by biological factors, like chemical imbalance. However, the vitamins had no effect on non-melancholic depressive symptoms (i.e., low-self esteem and anxiety) caused by external factors like losing a job.

Folate and vitamin B12 help produce serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for happiness. Additionally, skimping on either folate or B12 can heighten your risk of anemia, which can make you feel grumpy and fatigued—also common symptoms of depression. However, the study researchers were surprised that these vitamins appeared to affect different types of depressive symptoms differently, says lead study author Jussi Seppälä, MD, Chief of the Department of Psychiatry of the Hospital District of Southern Savo in Finland. While more research is needed to understand why, it’s clear that diet plays a role in mood management, and it can’t hurt to load up on both vitamins.

Unfortunately, the average woman doesn’t get enough folate in her regular diet, so you may need supplements to reach the recommended daily amount (RDA) of 400 to 800 mg, according to Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, a New York City nutritionist and author of The Miracle Carb Diet. While the study didn’t look at supplements and depression, Zuckerbrot  recommends supplements to women to prevent symptoms of deficiency, so it’s worth a shot. And because the richest sources of B12 are meat, eggs, and dairy, vegetarians and vegans tend to eat less than the 2.4 mcg RDA.

If you’re worried that you don’t get enough of these vitamins, ask your doctor about takingsupplements, and get a blood test ASAP. Also, try to incorporate these vitamin-rich foods into your daily meal plan:

Best Sources of Folate (RDA: 400-800 mg)

Serving Size
Amount of Folate
Fortified breakfast cereal (100% DV) 3/4 cup 400 mg
Liver 3 oz 54 mg
Lentils 1/5 cup 45 mg
Spinach ½ cup 115 mg
Enriched noodles, pasta, rice 1/2 cup 77-110 mg
Great Northern beans ½ cup 90 mg
Asparagus 4 spears 90 mg
Avocado ½ cup 59 mg
Broccoli ½ cup 51 mg
Orange juice 1 cup 47 mg
Source: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

Best Sources of B12 (RDA 2.4 mcg)

Serving Size
Amount of B12
Clams 3 oz 84.1 mcg
Liver 3 oz 70.7 mcg
Fortified breakfast cereal (100% DV) ¾ cup 6.0 mcg
Fish (trout, salmon, tuna) 3 oz 2.5-5.4 mcg
Beef 3 oz 1.4 mcg
Low-fat milk 1 cup 1.2 mcg
Low-fat yogurt 8 oz 1.1 mcg
Cheese 1 oz 0.9 mcg
Egg 1 whole 0.6 mcg
Chicken 3 oz .03 mcg