Saturday, Oct 10, was National Mental Health Day, so this week I am focusing on food and mood since nutrition is a crucial contributor to good mental health.
Nutritional neuroscience and nutritional psychiatry are emerging disciplines that shed light on how dietary factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions. Studies have found that healthy diets can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Clinical strategies that include nutrition interventions have potentially powerful impacts, not only for chronic mental health disorders but also for a patient’s overall mental wellness.
So what should you put in your cart and on your plate?
As always, eat real food. Real food is food that’s minimally processed. A diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates and bad fats can impair brain functions and worsen mental health symptoms. Food directly affects the function of your brain and mood. Eating high-quality foods containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants will nourish the brain. Much like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel.
Fine-tuning nutrition for optimal mental health
This type of B vitamin helps with dopamine production without forcing it to surge the way sugars do. Deficiencies in folate and other B vitamins have been linked to higher depression rates, fatigue, and insomnia. Along with vitamins B6 and B12, folate helps break down the amino acid homocysteine. High blood levels of homocysteine are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Some people carry a variant gene called MTHFR that prevents them from making full use of their diet folate. Enjoy folate in leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, Brussel sprouts, citrus fruits, beets, and lentils.
On top of its ability to help with digestion, fiber can also help your mood. Fiber increases serotonin production by slowing the absorption of sugar, contributing to stability in blood sugar balance. Try getting 25-30 grams of fiber every day. Some foods high in fiber are flax, avocado, leafy greens, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, berries, asparagus, and quinoa.
These inflammation fighters are especially plentiful in berries, leafy green vegetables, the spice turmeric, and foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon and black chia seeds. Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants, so indulge in moderation.
Vitamin D may be the vitamin most known to affect one’s mood. Low vitamin D levels are associated with depression and anxiety disorders, making getting enough vitamin D important. Vitamin D helps with the production of serotonin, and we usually get it from exposure to sunlight. Egg yolks, cod liver oil, and mushrooms are good sources.
Since our brains are made up mainly of fat and our bodies cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, we have to rely on a diet rich in omega-3s to meet our daily needs. Oily fish such as salmon and sardines are the best choice for Omega-3 with plant sources being flax seeds, hemp, and walnuts.
The promotion of dietary habits that lead to better mental health, and the identification and validation of critical individual nutritional components, will improve sustainability in our healthcare systems and reduce the economic costs associated with poor mental health and cognitive decline.
I believe the more you understand proper nutrition, and the more you practice positive lifestyle habits, the stronger your mental health and immune system will be.
Dietary changes should not substitute for treatment, but medications will work better in a healthy body than unhealthy ones.
Here’s to your wellbeing, in all ways!
Coach Christina MS, CNS, LN