SMART Food Choices—A Trick to “Busting the Blues!”

I’ve had several readers ask me about foods to eat to “beat the blues.” Considering that 1 out 10 people suffer from depression today, this is a timely question.

And the answer is, “There absolutely ARE foods that address depression!” Frankly, prescription drugs don’t have to be the first place to look for relief when the “black dog” (what Winston Churchill called this malady) comes visiting.

As one who struggles with depression, I’ve taken my share of Prozac, and I’d much rather take a more natural route to dealing with this. So after lots of research (thank you to one of my favorite websites, Care2) and some trial and error, I’ve learned that a big helping of raw, unsalted cashews, for instance, works really well when I’ve got a mild case of the blues.

What makes cashews so powerful? It’s tryptophan, that abundant amino acid in our holiday turkey. It’s also abundant in cashews. About 1/2 cup of cashews contains around 500 mg of tryptophan, 28% of our RDA of this essential amino acid (the therapeutic amount for mood elevation).

And what’s the big deal with tryptophan? It’s a precursor to mood-boosting serotonin. The body uses tryptophan to produce serotonin in the brain, and without high levels of serotonin, anxiety and depression can set in. And that’s where cashews play a role—1/4 to 1/2 cup of this nut can help your body boost its serotonin level. The caution though, is to remember they’re calorie-dense, so you don’t want to eat 1/2 cup of cashews every day.

But it isn’t just the tryptophan that makes cashews such a powerful antidepressant food. Cashews are also high in magnesium and B6. Magnesium has been shown to prevent and rapidly treat depression , so it is an incredibly important mineral for mood balance. And B6 is the vitamin responsible for tryptophan’s conversion into serotonin. It also helps the body absorb magnesium.

In fact, tryptophan, B6, and magnesium work together as a trifecta of mood-boosters, and cashews are a great source of all of them. But due to stress overload and poor eating habits, today’s typical diet is generally deficient in magnesium and B6, so eating cashews is a pleasant way to correct this deficiency and address depression as well.

I don’t want to give the impression that cashews are a miracle food, however. It is still important to reduce or manage stress, get regular moderate exercise, and consume a healthy diet to get the one-up on depression. And of this list, stress is likely the most significant factor, as cortisol can prevent tryptophan from being converted in the body . So, be sure to practice meditation or yoga and engage in positive self talk when eating those cashews.

I’m not saying food can always solve the problem, and I’m not saying there’s never a place for drugs. But I am saying that what’s often overlooked is the link between nutrition and depression. The one thing I learned after a couple years on pills was that being tested for dietary deficiencies should have been done BEFORE I turned to taking a prescription drug.

So back to the food approach: If you’re not crazy about cashews, the good news is there are other good foods loaded with tryptophan. For instance:

  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Cod
  • Egg
  • Halibut
  • Lamb
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Red Meats
  • Seeds
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Collard Greens
  • Turnip Greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Soybeans
  • Black Beans
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima Beans
  • Navy Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Dried Peas
  • Almonds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flax Seed s
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame Seeds

But, with B6, magnesium, and tryptophan, cashews are a powerhouse depression buster. So keeping some on hand in your freezer for a quick and delicious boost or to combat the winter doldrums is an excellent idea.

And a final and necessary note: Be sure to always consult a trusted doctor for anything occurring chronically.


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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