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Depression: nutrition and weight management

Published on October 22, 2019 at 12:28 / Updated on June 7, 2022 at 15:13

Depression is a disease that has continued to progress over the past few decades. With an ever-faster pace of life, it’s not uncommon to be struck by this mental health problem. And, unfortunately, it affects all spheres of our life, including our diet. How is it possible to cope with the impacts of depression on our eating habits? Let's dig a little deeper into the subject to find out.

Foods that can affect mood

When it comes to naturally countering the effects of depression, it's not uncommon to hear about serotonin. In fact, it’s often referred to as "the hormone of happiness.” Rather, it’s a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and emotions and works in the brain. Therefore, increasing serotonin levels through diet may be a way to relieve symptoms of depression. The obvious way to do this would be to consume foods rich in serotonin like bananas, nuts or pineapple. However, studies have shown that the serotonin in these products doesn’t reach the brain and therefore doesn’t increase its quantity.

The other alternative could be to eat more foods rich in tryptophan, a substance involved in the production of serotonin. However, foods high in tryptophan like eggs, meat, poultry and fish, also contain high protein content, which is said to lower the level of tryptophan and serotonin in the blood. The presence of vitamin B6, consumed in conjunction with foods rich in tryptophan, could, however, promote the synthesis of serotonin. More research is required to shed light on the role of these molecules or neurotransmitters on symptoms of depression.

One of the solutions considered by the experts is quite simply having a healthy and balanced diet. Here are some dietary recommendations: 

  • Opt for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. The Mediterranean diet responds well to these criteria and several studies have shown a protective effect of it against depression.
  • Avoid processed and refined products like pastries and sweets.
  • Consume sources of B-complex vitamins. For example, organ meats, legumes and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of folic acid (vitamin B9), while fish and seafood contain a good level of the vitamin B12.
  • Eat a diet rich in omega-3s since studies have shown a reduction in depressive symptoms when using them. Fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel are an excellent source. Supplements in oil, tablet or capsule form are also an option.
  • Stay hydrated, because even slight dehydration has a negative influence on mood. In addition, several side effects of antidepressants (dry mouth, constipation, nausea and vomiting, etc.) can be reduced by drinking a sufficient quantity of water (6 to 8 glasses/day).

How to counter weight loss caused by depression

Depression is a common reason for a decrease in appetite and, in turn, weight loss. In fact, depression is accompanied by a generalized loss of enjoyment that can extend into a person’s diet. 

Here are some tips to try to stimulate the desire to eat:

  • Increase your appetite by practicing physical activity. It might just be a matter of going for a walk.
  • Split meals over the course of the day. Smaller portions spaced every 2-3 hours with snacks can be a good solution.
  • Avoid eating alone during mealtimes. It is recommended to eat with family or friends to make this moment enjoyable.
  • Optimize your food intake by eating a diet that meets energy and protein needs. For example, adding skimmed milk powder to recipes, adding grated cheese to your cooked meals, or choosing dairy products with more fat are good methods.

Side effects of antidepressants

Like any medication, antidepressants can cause a multitude of side effects. Here are smart solutions to easily remedy the most common side effects found in people who have to juggle antidepressants:

Dry mouth:

  • Sucking ice cubes
  • Chewing gum or eating sugarless candy to stimulate salivation
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Use a saliva substitute (lozenges sold in pharmacies)


  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat more dietary fibre by consuming whole grain cereal products (25 to 30 grams/day)
  • Do not delay having a bowel movement when the need arises
  • Use medication as needed, under the advice of a pharmacist 

Nausea and vomiting

  • Eat smaller meals more frequently during the day
  • Avoid fatty, sweet and spicy foods
  • Avoid strong odours (perfumes, food, tobacco, etc.)
  • Avoid alcohol
  • If necessary, use medication (Gravol)

Weight gain

  • Exercise regularly to avoid a sedentary lifestyle
  • Adopt healthy eating habits
  • Curb hunger by eating snacks such as raw vegetables or crackers 
  • Reduce portion size at meals
  • Avoid fatty and sugary foods or eat them only occasionally 

Consulter un nutritionniste au besoin

Weight gain can also be a symptom of the depression itself and not due to taking antidepressants. In fact, depression often lends itself to a poorer lifestyle in which physical activity and a maintaining a healthy diet are not priorities. Additionally, the feelings of irritability and hopelessness that accompany depression often encourage the consumption of comfort foods, such as chocolate and sweets. Therefore, individuals end up making a habit of eating these kinds of foods, which gives them a temporary feeling of satisfaction. In addition, alcohol also contributes to weight gain since many people living with depression also suffer from alcoholism.

In conclusion, a healthy and balanced diet, coupled with good hydration and regular physical activity will help better control of the effects of depression and its resulting effect on your diet. It’s important to remember that every action counts and contributes to the process of healing from depression. In addition, comprehensive care from recognized professionals, such as psychologists, doctors and nutritionists is strongly encouraged.

Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier

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