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The #1 Food to Eat to Lower Your Risk of Depression, New Study Suggests

To keep your mental health on track, it pays to get earthy.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Last spring, mushrooms got attention for their potential part in cancer prevention, but it turns out they may give your emotional health a major boost as well.

In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers examined data on 24,000 U.S. adults, tracking their dietary habits and mental health changes over 11 years. They found that those who ate more mushrooms had a 43% lower risk of developing depression in that timeframe compared to people who didn't eat mushrooms at all.

RELATED: Surprising Effects of Eating Mushrooms, Says Science

The reason is likely connected to the numerous bioactive compounds that mushrooms have in abundance, including vitamin B12, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory amino acids, which have all been associated with lower depression and anxiety in the past, according to lead researcher Djibril Ba, Ph.D., research data management specialist at the Penn State College of Medicine.

"Having high levels of these compounds may lower risk of oxidative stress, and in turn, that could reduce symptoms of depression," he said to Eat This, Not That!

Oxidative stress is an imbalance in the body that happens when you produce too much of what's called free radicals—which cause inflammation—and you don't have enough antioxidants in the body to counteract them. That's why eating foods that are high in antioxidants is such a booster for your health because it allows you to bring that oxidative stress level down.

roasted mushrooms
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While mushrooms seem to have that kind of effect in a way that's preventive, Ba says that it's not known whether eating mushrooms when you already have depression would be useful. Ba and his fellow researchers tried to determine the extent of that strategy by asking several participants with depression to replace red or processed meat with mushrooms for numerous meals. However, they didn't find a notable reduction in depression symptoms, so it's possible that mushrooms are more of a prevention tactic than a complementary treatment approach.

If you're looking to gain the advantages of mushrooms but you're not fond of the taste, there are other options containing the main compound that Ba highlights, which is an amino acid called ergothioneine. Although mushrooms—especially oyster mushrooms—are the best source, other foods that contain it include liver, kidney, black and red beans, and oat bran.

"Ergothioneine can only be obtained through food," Ba says. "So focusing on getting these [foods] into [the] diet can be a helpful way to prevent oxidative stress and to lower risk of depression."

For more tips, be sure to read Popular Foods That Are Supporting Your Mental Health, Says Expert. Then, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter!

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more
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