Previous studies have demonstrated adverse mental health effects of Pb exposure. The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between consumption of preserved egg (PE), a high-Pb-containing food and depressive symptoms among adults in China. A sample of 25 213 adults (mean age 41·4 (sd 11·8) years; males, 53·9 %) in Tianjin, China, was studied in a cross-sectional analysis. Dietary intake including PE was assessed using a valid self-administered FFQ. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS). The association was estimated by OR using logistic regression models adjusted for multiple confounders. The prevalence of elevated depressive symptoms was 6·6 % (SDS≥50). Compared with the least frequent PE consumption (<once/week), multivariable adjusted OR for elevated depressive symptoms were 1·52 (95 % CI 1·28, 1·81), 2·24 (95 % CI 1·76, 2·81) and 3·31 (95 % CI 2·52, 4·30) for consumption of once, 2–3 times and ≥4 times/week, respectively (Pfor trend<0·0001), indicating a clear dose–response relationship. The results suggested that higher consumption of PE was strongly associated with depressive symptoms among adults in China. These findings underscore the need to consider dietary Pb exposure as a risk factor for psychological distress.