Nigerian Foods to Fight Depression and Stress

Keywords: Nigerian foods, depression, stress, nutritional supplements, probiotics, antioxidants, free radicals, oxidative stress, tryptophan, vitamins, proteins, minerals.


Nigerian Foods to Fight Depression and Stress. Is there a role for dietary or nutritional supplements in mental health? What nutrients are needed to fight depression? Are there local Nigerian foods that can positively affect mental health? What of local drinks?

Research has consistently proved that stress can predispose to inflammatory processes in the brain. And certain mental illnesses like depression come about due to inflammatory processes in the brain. There are also reports that mental health issues may be brought about by malfunctions of microorganisms in the gut or intestines.

Scientific evidence is on the increase about the positive effects of nutrition on mental health. And numerous evidence show that people with mental disorders ingest a lot of unhealthy fat, and sugar foods. They also take in foods low in vitamins and minerals.

Poor diet or nutrition has been seen before most psychiatric illnesses, eg. in depression, poor diet precedes the illness onset. And poor diet can also make an already existing illness worse.

Besides, the side effects of medications for mental illness, can affect food intake and this can affect nutrients.

But no matter the effectiveness of nutrition on mental illness, the nutrients must be taken with prescribed medications. This is more especially when the mental illness has set in.

Now there is also this sudden rush of people ingesting dietary supplements, globally. This is because there is this sudden awareness that dietary supplements prevent disease, upgrade mental and general health, enhance sport performance, and compensate for dietary deficiencies.

Africans, including Nigerians are blessed with different types of nutritional foods that can also positively affect mental health. And these Nigerian foods to fight depression and stress. are easily available and affordable.

Is there a role for dietary or nutritional supplements in mental health?           

Dietary supplements contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, proteins and other substances, in different percentages. Some have multivitamins, carbohydrates, hormone activators, and oil supplements.

And they are produced as tablets, capsules, powders, or liquids and even injectables.

The recent global increased demand for dietary supplements, can be a health risk due to excessive intake. And this can go from having a positive effect, to having detrimental effect on health and mental health.

Under normal circumstances, supplements are only prescribed when the nutrients they contain are low in the blood. But for those with mental illness, some of these nutrients found in dietary supplements are already low in their blood.

Probiotics, are also considered by some people, as dietary supplements. But in actual fact, they are live microorganisms that can improve intestinal health. And now, they are being used to treat many diseases, including mental illnesses such as depression.

It is important to know that dietary supplements are given to only those who are at risk. But taking these supplements without prescriptions even for those at risk can still have its own risks. This is because excessive dose and duration can be toxic to the person. And some medications for mental illness can react with some of these supplements.

What nutrients are needed to fight depression?

Many research papers over the years, have documented the positive effects of good diet on depression.


During certain biochemical reactions in the body, substances called free radicals are produced. These free radicals are also produced during metabolism inside the cells, by the immune system when fighting infections, excessive exercise, mental stress, heavy metals (eg. Iron and mercury), pesticides, cigarette smoking, radiation, smoked meat, used cooking oil, alcohol, etc.

These free radicals are majority of the time harmful to body cells, causing not only damages but sometimes death to the cells. It affects the brain cells, leading to depression, degeneration, etc.

So the body will also produce what is called antioxidants, to counteract the effects of the free radicals. This causes a balance between free radicals and antioxidants.

When there is an imbalance between the free radicals and the antioxidants, an oxidative stress results. Oxidative stress will cause cell damage via inflammatory processes. They can damage proteins and even the DNA. Not all oxidative stress causes damage. If the oxidative stress is short lived, the cells will repair themselves. But if long standing, the oxidative stress will cause more free radicals to be produced, thus more oxidative stress and a vicious cycle.

So antioxidants neutralize the free radicals and thus prevent oxidative stress.

Tryptophan and serotonin:

Tryptophan is an aminoacid necessary for the synthesis of serotonin. It can be found in foods. Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan in the body and brain. And serotonin is low in people who suffer from depressive disorders.

The availability of tryptophan in dietary foods to increase the serotonin level in the brain is a bit controversial. While some researchers believe that it can help, others say that it cannot. But many believe that to aid the uptake of tryptophan into the brain, the intake of high carbohydrate is important. Carbohydrate increases the level of insulin, which in turn increases the crossing of tryptophan into the blood brain barrier and into the brain.  But for one to increase carbohydrate, it is important to take whole grains and not sugary foods. Whole grains and other whole foods make it easier for food to digest.

Vitamins and proteins:

The B vitamins include the B6, B12 and folate. They are needed in DNA, regulation of dopamine, and serotonin, which is required to improve mood.

Vitamin D is important in the production of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine and serotonin, as well as the protection of the brain cells.

Omega 3 is easily taken in to the brain cells via the blood brain barrier and reducing inflammatory processes in the brain. It is known that depression comes about when inflammatory processes take place in the hippocampus of the brain.

This nutrient is also increases the production of neurotransmitters. And it improves the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus. Omega 3 reduces the risk of major depressive disorder.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, required in the different processes of the neurotransmitter and neurotransmission. Vitamin C also protects the brain cells from excessive effects of the neurotransmitter known as glutamate. The production of serotonin from tryptophan, requires vitamin C.

Vitamin E, functions as an antioxidant in the brain.

Proteins are required in the production of neurotransmitters, because they contain amino acids required, like tryptophan.

Trace elements:

Zinc, selenium and magnesium, are minerals or micronutrients found in the body, including the brain.

Selenium functions as an antioxidant and has anti inflammatory effects in the brain.

Zinc aids regulating neurotransmitters and in the production of new brain cells. It is an antioxidant and an anti inflammatory.

Magnesium is used in DNA replication, in the central nervous system functions, etc. It is also used as an antioxidant, an anti inflammatory and affects the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Are there local Nigerian foods that can positively affect mental health?

Do the things we eat and drink affect our mood? It is known that nutrients through recommended food are better than nutritional supplements except for the at risk populations.

A balanced diet is also known as whole foods.  Whole food gives the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber that are important for good health.

Sometimes, especially for mild and subclinical depression, lifestyle adjustment may just be all that needed to treat the condition. And life style adjustments include having a balanced diet.

It is known that depression is brought about when there exist low levels of certain neurotransmitters or chemicals in the brain. These neurotransmitters include serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, glutamate, etc. Also, inflammatory processes in the brain also contribute to depression via damage to the brain cells. So getting the right food and drinks, on regular bases, can help prevent depression as well as augment the other types of treatment methods. Eating the wrong food can worsen an already existing depression.

So this topic of Nigerian foods to fight depression and stress is important.


Nigeria is endowed with edible vegetations. There are green leafy vegetables like ugu (fluted pumpkin leaves), green leaves, onugbu (bitter leaves), afang (wild spinach), ewedu (jute leaves), uziza leaves (false cubeb leaves), nchuawu (clove Basil), gbure (waterleaf), shokoto yokoto (Lagos spinach), efo tete (African spinach),

These green leafy vegetables contain antioxidants, proteins and magnesium. And they also contain Omega 3 and folate or B9, B6, etc.

Non leafy vegetable:

The non leafy vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, and onions including garlic, contain vitamin C, an antioxidant. Corn as well as sweet potatoes act as antioxidants, because they contain vitamin C as well.

Carrots and pumpkins also have vitamin Bs. While onions have Bs, magnesium and high amount of protein as well.

Protein containing:

Turkey, chicken, eggs, beans, lean meat, fish, milk and soya products, contain proteins.

Egg yolk, meat, fish, contain vitamin D and B. Egg also has good quantity of selenium, and Omega 3.

Soya also contains Omega 3, vitamin D, zinc and magnesium. Milk and corn have the B vitamins, magnesium and zinc, also. Egg contains also Omega 3, vitamin and D, zinc, and magnesium. Turkey and chicken has Omega 3, vitamin B, and selenium.


Grapefruits, oranges, pawpaw, avocado pear, African pear (ube), African cherry (udara or agbalumo), all contain vitamin C. Then peppers, and tomatoes contain vitamin C also. These have antioxidant properties.  Other fruits include plantains and bananas.

Tomatoes, peppers, pawpaw, African pear, avocado pear also contain vitamin B and E, as well as magnesium.

Plantains and bananas contain vitamin C, B6, magnesium and tryptophan. They have antioxidant properties.

Whole grain:

The whole grains carbohydrate foods that contain vitamin B, iron, folate, selenium, magnesium, etc. Whole grain foods include millet, Guinea corn, oatmeal, corn, whole wheat bread, crackers and whole grain pastas (Whole grain spaghetti).

Brown rice in Nigeria, include Ofada rice and other local rice in Nigeria. All these are whole grain rice. They also have some quantity of protein.

Oats and whole wheat, brown rice and corn also contain antioxidants Millets and corn also have zinc. Corn can be made into pap or akamu or ogi and agidi. There is also whole wheat bread, as well as white whole wheat bread. So there is need to read the labels.


These include ground nuts, cashew nuts, wall nuts, tiger nuts, almond nuts, etc.

Wall nuts known as ukpa in Igbo, asala in Yoruba, or okwe in Edo, are rich in Omega 3. They also have antioxidant properties and reduce inflammation.

Tiger nuts or aki awusa, as it is known in Igbo land, has vitamin C, B6, zinc, magnesium, etc.

Groundnuts and cashew nuts contain proteins, Omega 3 and 6, magnesium, vitamin E, Bs. They also have antioxidant properties, etc.

Almond nuts are generally called fruits in Nigeria. They contain protein, vitamin E, magnesium, and are antioxidants.

Drinks that can help fight depression.

Apart from Nigerian foods to fight depression and stress drinks can also have its effects.

Indigenous drinks in Nigeria, that can help in the fight against depression include:

Fura de nunu, kunu, are from the northern part of Nigeria. These are made from whole grains.

Fresh palm wine or mmanya ngwo, is seen in the southern Nigeria. It contains vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, amino acids, protein, carbohydrate, etc. This is an alcoholic drink, so must be taken with caution.

Stimulants such as tea, coffee, cocoa, can exert antidepressant properties. They can exert anti inflammatory effects on the brain as well as act as antioxidants and protect from oxidative stress. They can increase neurotransmitters like serotonin.

The darker the cocoa used, the more effective. But caution must be taken, especially for those who are predisposed to developing hypertension.


If you are prone to stress, depression and other mental illnesses,, stay away from pastries, refined carbohydrates and alcohol (eg.fermented palm wine, brukutu, pito, ogogoro, etc.).

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