Healthy vegan diet & lower depression risk

Updated 11 September 2018

A vegan diet on its own is unlikely to cure depression. But a healthy diet – and this can very well be a healthy vegan diet – can contribute to curing, or improving, or reducing the risk of depression.

Here are some food group based recommendations from a meta-analysis from 2017. Enjoy.

Associated with a decreased risk of depression
Vegan alternative


whole grains

plant sources of ALA (foods) or vegan sources of DHA (oils/supplements)
+ a good source of vitamin B12
olive oil

low-fat dairy products
calcium rich plant foods, calcium rich water, or calcium fortified foods
+ a good source of vitamin B12

low intakes of animal foods

Associated with an increased risk of depression
Healthy vegan replacement options that might help decrease depression risk
red and/or processed meat
tofu, tempeh, natto, some seitan, some vegan veggie meats (burgers, sausages, deli slices), falafel, homemade seitan sausage, homemade tempeh chorizo, green jackfruit burgers, mushroom burgers
+ a good source of vitamin B12
refined grains
whole grains, whole grain bread, rolled oats, quinoa, amaranth, popcorn, puffed whole grains, whole grain flour with some soya flour for baking
fruit, dried fruit such as dates, figs, apricots, bananas, sweets made with dried fruit
high-fat dairy products
soya milk (avoid soya milk with a lot of added sugar), soya yoghurt, nut butters, tahini
rapeseed (canola) oil/olive oil/flax seed oil based margarines, healthy oils
sweet potatoes, a mix of root vegetables
high-fat gravy
vegan moderate fat gravy (Google or invent a recipe)
low intakes of fruits and vegetables
Try a breakfast with five pieces of fruit. Eat vegetables with lunch and dinner.

Li Y, Lv MR, Wie YJ, Sun L, Zhang JX, Zhang HG, Li B: Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017 Jul;253:373-382. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.04.020 . Epub 2017 Apr 11. 

See my nutrient recommendations for vegans - i.e. which nutrients people with vegan or near-vegan diets *should* give some attention to - here

More food and nutrient suggestions: 

Eating enough ALA-rich foods (alpha-linolenic acid) will likely result in higher concentrations of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in your body and this - or consuming EPA directly from EPA-rich algae oil - might help you getting rid of depression. (See my recommendations under point 5) (See here, and here, and here, here, and here for references.)
A DHA supplement (~ 300 mg/day) MIGHT improve depression, but this is not sure at all and might be due to DHA being converted back to EPA in your body.

Eating nuts can probably also contribute to lowering the risk for depression. (See here, here, herehere, and here.) 

Consuming enough zinc is important for everyone (and easy to do), and it's possible that getting enough zinc is especially important for people with depression, possibly especially women (See here). 

Avoiding vitamin D deficiency could be important for avoiding depression (see here, here, herehere, and here. But it's not sure that vitamin D supplements can improve depression symptoms, see here).

Also see Virginia Messina's related post here.