Nutrition and mental health are closely linked, even if they don’t seem to be connected at first. More and more research is now pointing towards lack of proper nutrition as one of root causes of deteriorating mental health. Anxiety and depression are two major concerns that are taking over rapidly, and numerous studies have found that dietary choices have an important role to play in nutritional psychiatry. It has been noted that people suffering from conditions such as OCD, ADHD, depression and bipolar disorder are often deficient in key nutrients like vitamin D, folic acid, B12, minerals like magnesium, zinc and manganese along with omega-3 fatty acids. All of these are essential nutrients required for production and optimal functioning of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Lack of these neurotransmitters is linked to range of mental health issues. So the bottom line is that you can keep your mental health intact if you consume a well-balanced diet, making sure you meet your daily recommended doses of all your micronutrients. Here is a comprehensive list of foods that you can start including in your diet to boost your mental health.
- Whole grains: Unlike refined foods, whole grains such as oats, soy, beans and brown rice do not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. They instead help maintain a steady supply of energy in the form of carbohydrates to the brain. Also, whole grains allow the brain to absorb the amino acid tryptophan which is required for keeping depression at bay. Some studies have also pointed out that people who consumed moderate amounts of whole grains as a part of their daily diet had a reduced risk of anxiety.
- Leafy vegetables: Vegetables such as spinach and kale are rich in fibre which make sure your brain gets a steady supply of glucose. They are also a good source of folic acid, an essential vitamin that is required to fight depression. It also helps in preventing sleep disorders which may further add to mental health issues.
- Nuts: Nuts and seeds have long been lauded for their health benefits but their role in metal health is extremely crucial. Walnuts are an excellent source of healthy fats or unsaturated fats like the omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids play an important role in neuronal health and maintaining structural integrity of the cells. Cashew nuts are rich in magnesium which helps in providing oxygen supply to the brain. Almonds, on the other hand, are a source of a compound called phenylalanine. This compound is linked to the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, known to play a role in controlling moods.
- Fish: Fatty fish are not only a good source of protein but also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, required for optimal brain function and boosting memory. They also serve as a source of vitamins, which lowers the risk of depression. Vitamin D is especially linked to the production of serotonin, also known as the happy hormone.
- Olive oil: There’s a reason why olive oil is always suggested as a healthier oil option. It contains polyphenols which lowers the risk of development of Alzheimer’s disease. It also has a role to play in improving symptoms in those suffering from depression. Further it also boosts memory and learning process.
- Yogurt: Your gut contains a huge number of organisms that perform various functions which your internal systems cannot perform on its own. If the population of these organisms is not maintained, then production of neurotransmitters is impacted greatly. On the other hand, abnormal gut bacteria result in production of compounds like histamines, endotoxins and cytokines which can damage the brain cells. Consuming yogurt can simply help restore maintain helpful bacterial population in your gut, preventing a vast range of mental health issues.
- Cacao/Dark chocolate: Cacao and dark chocolate containing cacao are an excellent source of compounds called flavonoids. Flavanoids are nothing but antioxidants which help get rid of the damage causing oxidants or free radicals. Consumption of foods rich in antioxidants is actually linked to slower cognitive decline. Cacao also contains magnesium which lowers the levels of cortisol which produced as a response to stressful conditions.
- Berries: Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are all good sources of antioxidants that help scavenge free radicals which cause damage to the brain cells. They are also rich in manganese, a micronutrient whose deficiency is linked to anxiety and depression.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is naturally rich in curcumin, a compound linked with reduction in inflammation. Therefore, it acts a perfect remedy to soothe you when you are under stress. Turmeric is also linked to lower risk of depression.
Although, these foods are proved to improve and boost your brain function and prevent mental health problems, sometimes the underlying cause may point to a different issue. It is best to seek help from a nutritional psychiatrist to identify whether the root cause of an underlying mental health issue is linked to poor nutrition.
Dietician Arti Jain
MSc (Dietetics), PG Dip(Nutrition), Diabetic Educator (USA), International Certified Obesity Management (Australia), International Sports Nutrition ( California), Dip in Skin Aesthetics & Trichology