What constitutes depression?

Depression is a serious illness, and should not be confused with occasional sadness, which is completely normal. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression fits into the following categories:

Major depression: Symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with daily activities, such as work, school, sleep, and one’s ability to enjoy life. A person might experience just one period or episode of this type of depression, or reoccurring episodes.

Persistent depressive disorder: This type of depression refers to a period of major depression that lasts for two years or more. Symptoms could rise and fall, but a person is constantly depressed for at least two years.

Other types include postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and psychotic depression. In this article, we won’t get into the specifics of these varying types of depression, but it helps to have an understanding of what depression actually entails, and what it can look like.

Can I fight depression without drugs?

The good news is, there are many safe, natural and effective ways to prevent and support depression through diet and lifestyle. While these might not be a cure-all for all sufferers of depression, they can certainly be quite helpful.


Exercise is known to boost the “feel good” hormones in the brain, and certainly does. Getting regular exercise that is appropriate for your fitness level is key. This might be walking 30 minutes per day, or logging hours at the gym. Be sure to engage in types of exercise that you enjoy. For example, if you hate running, there’s no need to force yourself. Find a class or other activity that makes you feel good, and fits into your lifestyle.

Supplement with omega 3 fatty acids

Studies show that supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids can help fight depression and anxiety. Work with a Nutritionist or integrative medical practitioner to find the right dosage for you.

Top 7 foods to fight depression:

  1. Dark leafy greens

Dark leafy greens are essential for many reasons, and depression is definitely one. These include kale, collard greens, spinach, swiss chard, arugula and more, and are packed with the important mineral, magnesium. This mineral has been proven effective in the treatment of depression.

  1. Walnuts

Walnuts are often considered a brain-healthy food, and they are even shaped like the human brain. Walnuts are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to support cognitive function and improve symptoms of depression.

  1. Wild caught fish

For many of the same reasons omega 3 supplementation is helpful for depression, so is wild caught fish, which is the best food source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. The best choice is Alaskan wild salmon, whenever possible. Always opt for wild caught versus farmed fish.

  1. Avocado

Avocados are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted to serotonin, the brain chemical that allows the brain to relax and is largely responsible for mood, memory, and sexual desire (along with other functions).

  1. Berries

Likely due to their high antioxidant, vitamin C and quercetin content, berries are thought to decrease inflammation and increase cognitive function. Studies have even been done that show berries can be helpful in decreasing memory loss and preventing brain damage.

  1. Raw nuts and seeds

Raw nuts and seeds are not only high in omega 3 fatty acids (again, walnuts especially), but also contain significant amounts of vitamin E and vitamin B6, which are excellent in supporting and calming the nervous system.

  1. Beans and legumes

Studies suggest that frequent consumption of legumes could help in the treatment of severe depressed mood (SDM), however not for post-menopausal women (where they actually might be harmful).

If you or someone you love suffers from depression, finding the support and treatment you need is highly individualized. However, keep in mind that maintaining a healthy diet and making the right lifestyle changes can help fight depression and offer endless benefits to your brain and body.

Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California, and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel works with clients individually via skype, focusing on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes. Consultations include diet journal analysis, individualized menu planning, and herbal/supplementation protocols.