October 10 is World Mental Health Day.
Does it matter what we eat for our mental health? Accumulating data suggests that diet and nutrition significantly affect mood and mental well-being. While the factors of mental health are complex, increasing evidence indicates a strong association between a poor diet and the exacerbation of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. The field of nutritional psychiatry has gained prominence and explores the impact of dietary patterns and specific nutrients on mental health. Health professionals increasingly consider dietary interventions as part of mental health treatment plans.
While acknowledging the complex, multidirectional nature of the relationships between diet and mental health, here is a high-level way certain foods and dietary patterns are relevant to mental health:
Gut-Brain Connection: Research has shown a strong connection between the gut and the brain, often called the "gut-brain axis." The composition of the gut microbiome can influence mood, cognition, and behavior. A diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics can support a healthy gut, potentially positively impacting mental health.
Nutrient Deficiencies: Poor nutrition can lead to nutrient deficiencies, affecting brain function. For example, deficiencies in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals like zinc and magnesium have been linked to mood disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Inflammation: An inflammatory diet characterized by a high intake of processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can contribute to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been associated with a higher risk of mood disorders and cognitive decline.
Sugar and Mental Health: Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to mental health issues. High sugar intake can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, affecting mood and energy levels.
Healthy eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet are associated with better mental health than unhealthy eating patterns, such as the Western diet.Eating high-quality foods that contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants will nourish the brain in a positive way.
So what should you put in your cart and on your plate?
Here is a list of foods to eat for optimal mental well being:
Omega-3 fatty acids: found in fish, walnuts, and chia seeds.
Magnesium: found in green leafy vegetables, avocados, and nuts.
Antioxidants: these inflammation fighters are especially plentiful in berries, leafy green vegetables, and the spice turmeric
Folate: this type of B vitamin helps with dopamine production. Find it in leafy greens and lentils.
Vitamin D: helps with the production of serotonin, and we usually get it from exposure to sunlight.Egg yolks and mushrooms are other good sources,
Load up on:
There are two ways nutritional interventions can help mental health: by increasing healthy habits and reducing unhealthy ones. For the best outcome, you have to do both.
Note: Dietary changes shouldn’t substitute for treatment but medications will work better in a healthy body than an unhealthy one.Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental well-being BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2382 (Published 29 June 2020)