Top Six Experts Share the Relation Between Depression and Malnutrition

Last Updated: September 26, 2023

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses that interfere with our minds. A chemical imbalance in the brain brings despair, nervousness, and physical pain. But did you know our mental health directly relates to our food?

We had the privilege to ask this question to experts in their respective fields, including Medical Doctors, Researchers, Nutritionists, and Dietitians.

“What is the relationship between depression and malnutrition”?

Ryan Carter

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Depression can result from many downstream epigenetic factors.

Sleep, environment, social relationships, social media use, and even nutrition all have a role.

Nutrition provides the raw ingredients we need to make biochemical reactions, such as producing energy for all reactions. Within all food is, of course, energy but also information. The information component is a bar code of nutrients that allow us to utilize the energy more efficiently, aiding in biochemical pathways such as dopamine, serotonin, and much more.

My favorite nutritional, functional foods supporting mental health to curb depression are:

Animal proteins.

This is the food we are told to limit or avoid, but from a nutritional perspective, it makes zero sense. Red meat, in particular, contains vast nutrients, all critical in neurotransmission. Red meat also contains creatine. Amino acid-derived compound is not only known for its muscle-building and strength-yielding capacity but its improvements in mental health and curbing depression. Even on par with antidepressant medications.


Seafoodconsumption is one of the most substantial supportive antidepressant foods going. We can look for low heavy metal types of fish, such as smaller cold water-based options. Seafood provides the unique, essential fatty acids DHA and EPA and critical minerals involved with neurotransmitters, antioxidant enzyme reactions, and energy pathways related to thyroid hormones. We don’t need to use fish oil supplementation. We can use the real thing, which provides more beneficial effects and comes with fewer oxidation products from processing into a supplement that is apparent and prevalent with fish oils.

Dark chocolate + green vegetables + OmG = magnesium.

Magnesium intake is associated with reductions in many modern diseases, not just mental health effects. Magnesium-rich foods, which include dark chocolate, leafy green vegetables, and pulses, should be a staple in people’s diets. Additionally, chicken, pork, and shellfish also contain surprisingly intermediate amounts.

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Taylor Marae

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Regarding depression and malnutrition, I want to first start with the word “malnutrition.” A lot of people think they are not malnourished because they eat daily; unfortunately, a lot of the food we eat in the western diet nowadays significantly lacks all the appropriate nutrients for an optimal functioning human body. That said, there are many links between nutrient deficiencies in the body and depression. For example, getting your vitamin b12 tested or vitamin D. I think a lot of people would be shocked that they are deficient and mentally they could receive in getting those numbers up.

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Courtney Swan

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There is a direct connection between the gut and the brain through the vagus nerve. We also know that we make roughly 90% of our happy hormone serotonin in the gut, so there is a direct link between our gut health and brain wellness. The brain will also be affected if the gut is inflamed or irritated. Getting to the root of gut issues, any food allergies or intolerances, repairing any microflora imbalance, and consuming foods that contain tryptophan (an amino acid that aids in serotonin production) can help improve depression symptoms.

Foods include salmon, turkey, nuts & seeds, eggs, organic milk & cheese. Animal foods are important for mental health. Research shows people who strictly eat plant-based diets have higher incidents of depression. Outside of nutrition, prioritizing sleep, life activities that bring joy, fulfilling work, and letting go of unhealthy relationships are amazing tools for relieving depression.

Marion Nestle

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Malnutrition and hunger are terrible conditions, well documented to lead to distress.  Starvation is not good for health, mental or physical.   Chronic malnutrition means chronic deprivation and slowing down to compensate.  Of course, chronically malnourished people are depressed; they have plenty of causes.

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Dr. Joel Fuhrman

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An unhealthy diet is one of the contributing factors causing depression. The brain, like the rest of the body, is dependent on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to function optimally. Because the brain is vulnerable to oxidative stress, antioxidant phytochemicals also promote a healthy mood.

A large percentage of American adults are malnourished, not meeting the recommended intakes for several essential nutrients, including antioxidant vitamins. And a large percentage of the American diet is high-glycemic processed foods. A high-glycemic diet, fast foods, and commercial baked goods are associated with a higher risk of depression.

In contrast, studies suggest that diets higher in vegetables, fruits, and phytochemicals reduce the risk of depression and improve mood.

Eating well – with a variety of plant foods and appropriate supplements to fill in any nutritional gaps – is essential for maintaining a healthy mood. For example, deficiencies in EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, can increase the risk of depression and can be an effective intervention to help those with depression. Other brain-supporting nutrients and natural substances can aid those with emotional disorders.

I explain more about the connection between food and brain health – not only mood, but memory, learning, dementia, school performance, and behavior, too – in my book Fast Food Genocide. Helping people get well while avoiding medication dependency has always been my specialty of interest.

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Lee Holmes

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Depression and malnutrition can be bio-directional and multifaceted. Depression can lead to appetite and weight fluctuations, and inadequate nutrition can lead to malnutrition and undernourishment.

A healthy diet enables a healthy gut microbiome, and the gut communicates with the brain through what is known as the gut-brain axis. Any alterations in the gut microbiome can therefore affect mood and neurotransmitters.

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Just as what these experts shared, new studies are showing intriguing connections between nutritional deficiencies and mental health. It’s incredible what scientists are discovering about how our eating habits affect us physically and mentally. It might pave the way for novel treatments for stress, depression, and other mental diseases.

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