What’s the Best Nutrition for Mental Health?

You are required to consume good nutrition for your mental health. The type of food you eat can affect your mental health positively or negatively. Watching what you eat is an obvious way to enhance your mental health or address already existing mental challenges.

The human brain has various components that come from your diet. You have to eat food that sustains brain health and avoid those which cause deficiencies in the brain.

Your brain is the driving force of all your bodily functions. Your brain and mental health are connected. Therefore, what you feed your body, makes its way to your brain and ultimately has an effect on your mental health.

However, following a diet that is good for your mental health is not sufficient treatment for mental illnesses. A careful “brain diet” will need the support of other interventions like physical exercise, relaxation, and medication for holistic prevention or treatment.

The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health

Researchers have found out about the link between your nutrition and mental health. No wonder, the psychologists say “your physiology affects your psychology and your psychology affects your physiology.” Thus, don’t underestimate the importance of proper nutrition for your mental health. 

Your brain needs nutrients because of their influence on your mental health in the following ways:

Brain development

Throughout the human lifespan, from neonatal stage to old age, human beings require proper nutrition for mental health. Research results indicate that a balanced diet plays a vital role in properly supplying foods that help brain development and cognitive function later in life.

Reducing susceptibility to stress 

Good nutrition makes you less sensitive to stress, hence, you can tolerate stress better. There’s a saying “a hungry man is an angry a man.” Taken literally, the saying fits this context. When your gut lacks some nutrients, it affects your brain and leads to chemical and biological processes that make you irritable.

Healthy “gut microbiota regulates serotonin,” which is the feel-good hormone in the brain. Therefore, healthy gut microbiota leads to a healthy brain. And a healthy brain is at lower risk of mental illnesses like depression.

From this, I make the subjective conclusion that angry people lack some nutrients in their brains—of course, subject to more research. Here is an article about dealing with anger outbursts.

Regulating moods

Good nutrition maintains normal or optimum levels of hormones in the brain which affect mood. Good brain health is associated with the ability for mood regulation. Therefore, it follows that you need healthy eating to sustain your mental wellness. 

Improving cognitions reduce inflammation in the brain

Proper mental health nutrition prevents cognitive decline and fosters better brain functioning. You can lessen the impact of ageing on mental health and the effect of mental illnesses like dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders through healthy nutrition.

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Required Nutrition for Mental Health and their Natural Sources

According to European Neuropsychopharmacology Journal, a poor diet lacking certain nutrients puts you at risk for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, cognitive performance. Thus, nutrition is a critical factor needed to achieve good mental health. 

A diet which targets your mental health should include the following nutrients:

  • fatty acids
  • vitamins
  • proteins and amino acids
  • minerals
  • carbohydrates

The following are natural food sources for the above-mentioned nutrients required for good brain health and improved mental health. Without these nutrients, the brain will be almost useless.

Mediterranean salad
Image by pastel100 from Pixabay

You can lessen the impact of ageing on mental health and the effect of mental illnesses like dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders through healthy nutrition.

Fatty acids

A high-fat diet, such as the Keto Diet, has antidepressant and anxiolytic effects. However, it presents the risk of though the risk of obesity or certain deficiencies if overdone.

The brain comprises of fatty acids in the omega-3 family, hence it’s important to feed the brain with these polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids enhance visual, cerebral and intellectual abilities. Deficiencies of Omega-3 can cause cerebral dysfunctions and put you at a high risk of dementia. 

Healthy Sources of Fatty Acids

Proteins

Proteins provide nutrition for mental health because a diet consisting of proteins provides the body with essential amino acids. Neurotransmitters need amino acids to function optimally in the brain. Hence, the proper functioning of the neurotransmitters reduces symptoms of depression. Deficiency in amino acids leads to low moods and aggression. Consume proteins in moderation because excess amino acids lead to problems like mental retardation or other forms of brain damage. 

Healthy Sources of Proteins
  • meat—chicken, beef, pork, lamb, fish
  • eggs
  • legumes—beans, peas, lentils, peanuts
  • almonds
  • chia seeds
  • leafy greens

Carbohydrates

Good source of carbohydrates which are good for brain chemicals such as the serotonin which is responsible for making you feel good. and increase energy level.

Healthy Sources of Carbohydrates
  • Whole grains— rice, oats, wheat flour
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Dairy foods— milk, yoghurt
  • Fruits–Bananas, oranges, apples, blueberries
  • Legumes—kidney beans, chickpeas 

Vitamins

Vitamins are good nutrition for your mental health because they provide a protective effect on your brain. the vitamin B group generally help to keep your nervous system healthy. Therefore, your diet should include vegetables and fruits which are excellent sources of most vitamins. For mental health improvement, make vitamins part of your habitual diet. 

Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1 boosts learning, increases energy, reduces stress, and prevents memory loss, like in Alzheimer’s disease.

Healthy Sources of Vitamin B1
  • peas
  • eggs
  • whole grains
  • fortified cereals
  • liver
  • fresh and dried fruit

Vitamin B2

Certain nerve or nervous system problems can be reduced with vitamin B2 including nerve damage, stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Healthy Sources of Vitamins B2
  • eggs
  • fortified cereals
  • milk
  • rice

Vitamin B3

Serotonin requires amino acid tryptophan, which is produced utilizing vitamin B3. Therefore, vitamin B3 can help keep away symptoms of conditions like anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. 

Healthy Sources of Vitamins B3
  • wheat
  • eggs
  • milk
  • fish

Vitamin B6

It has a role in creating folate and neurotransmitters which help in regulating mood such as serotonin. Vitamin B6 also prevents declining brain function as seen in Alzheimer’s. 

Healthy Sources of Vitamins B6
  • green leafy vegetables
  • legumes like soya beans
  • whole grains
  • potatoes
  • peanuts
  • fish
  • pork
  • milk
  • eggs

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is critical for cognitive behaviours and prevention or alleviate dementia symptoms and other cognitive disorders. Low vitamin B12 in the brain is associated with psychosis, mania, and paranoia. Also, its deficiency induces lethargy, depression, and poor memory. 

Healthy Sources of Vitamins B12
  • eggs
  • fortified cereals
  • nutritional yeast
  • mushrooms
  • fish
  • beef
  • lamb
  • clams
  • poultry
  • milk

Vitamin D

For optimum brain functioning, mood, and critical thinking, vitamin D is essential. 

Healthy Sources of Vitamin D
  • sunlight
  • oily fish
  • cod liver oil
  • dairy foods
  • eggs
  • fortified cereals

Minerals

Calcium

Calcium deficiency causes lethargy, anxiety, and moodiness. Thus, it’s necessary for normal brain function. 

Healthy Sources of Calcium
  • soya beans and soya drinks
  • dairy foods—milk, cheese, yoghurt
  • green leafy vegetables—broccoli, cabbage, okra
  • fruits—oranges
  • nuts
  • wheat flour
  • fish e.g. sardines

Iodine

Iodine promotes cerebral functioning and lowers chances of cerebral dysfunction.

Healthy Sources of Iodine
  • seafood—tuna, shrimp, shellfish
  • table salt
  • dairy foods
  • eggs

Iron

Iron deficiency causes fatigue, depression, and poor cognitive function. It helps the brain in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, therefore, enhancing normal brain connectivity.

Healthy Sources of Iron
  • dark-green leafy vegetables 
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • dried fruits
  • whole grains
  • fortified cereals
  • soya bean flour
  • liver 
  • meat

Zinc

Zinc supports the brain cells hence it is a crucial mineral for mental health maintenance. Clinically depressed people have low amounts of zinc in their body. 

Healthy Sources of Zinc
  • meat
  • poultry
  • dairy products
  • whole grains
  • fortified cereals
  • pumpkin seeds
  • oysters and crabs

Folate

Folate deficiency causes a high risk for depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses. In early development years, folate helps to protect against psychosis symptoms as in schizophrenia. 

Healthy sources of folate
  • leafy greens—cabbage, spinach, Brussel sprouts, broccoli
  • liver
  • peas
  • fortified cereals

Selenium

Selenium helps in stabilising mood and decreases anxiety.

Healthy Sources of Selenium 
  • mushrooms
  • nuts
  • pork
  • whole grains
  • beef
  • chicken 
  • shrimp

Chromium

Chromium helps to decrease depression by aiding and inducing the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters namely serotonin and norepinephrine. 

Healthy Sources of Chromium
  • beef
  • poultry
  • whole grains
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • dairy foods
  • mushrooms

Good Nutrition for Mental Health

The “eat-a-balanced-diet” cliché is not only good for your physical health but is also good for your mental health. Your diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood, and nuts for mental health improvement and make them part of your habitual diet. This is typical of the Mediterranean diet, which is recommended for good brain health. 

Considering individual differences in the body’s ability to tolerate certain foods and the availability of certain foods based on geographical locations, the outline above includes various suggestions for the key nutrients required by the brain. However, you can take nutritional supplements for mental health such as Omega-3 supplements. 

A balanced diet will not just benefit your body, but also your brain, mind, and spirit. Therefore, if you have been taking a balanced diet, keep it up because that’s good nutrition for mental health. 

Image: brain inflammation
Image by VSRao from Pixabay

Bad Nutrition for Mental Health

Poor nutrition can alter mental and behavioural functions making you more prone to acquire mental illnesses. On both extremes, poor nutrition can lead to either malnutrition or obesity. These conditions are often associated with poor mental health.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t take extreme situations to develop mental health issues because of poor nutrition. Deficiency of certain components needed by your brain can alter your mental health.

While striving to maintain healthy nutrition for your mental health, avoid foods bad for your mental health. Stay away from too much sugar, saturated fats, fast foods, soft drinks, and alcohol. Too much of a high-fat and high sugar diet lead to cognitive impairments, memory problems, and anxiety. Such products alter your brain and lead to preventable aggression and poor emotion regulation. If made a habit, imagine what the consequences can be! 

Final Word:

Now that I think about it… I have a hypothesis…

The secret of people who seem to take life’s adversities without falling to the ground and giving up MIGHT lie on their nutrition. If you see someone like this, would you please ask them about their habitual diet? It probably includes foods which enhance their brain health and ultimately their mental health without even aiming for it. After all, proper nutrition for mental health is a natural requirement. 

Based on the above guidelines, you can adhere to a balanced diet which will sustain the biochemical composition of your brain. If you are not sure how to pull off diets which provide the required nutrition for mental health, seek the advice of a professional nutritionist or dietician. 

You don’t have to quit life. Work hard to fulfil the nutritional needs of your brain.

Life is for living. Keep living. Don’t give up.

Disclaimer: This article should not replace in any way the advice of professionals. This is not a scientific article. It’s a summary of the findings based on research from scientific articles. For details about the scientific findings, consult the links provided in the references below.

References

Adan, R. A., van der Beek, E. M., Buitelaar, J. K., Cryan, J. F., Hebebrand, J., Higgs, S., … & Dickson, S. L. (2019). Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 29(12), 1321-1332. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924977X19317237

Mad in America. Science, Psychiatry and Social Justice. Nutrition and Mental Health. Retrieved January 6, 2020, from https://www.madinamerica.com/nutrition-mental-health/

Owen, L., & Corfe, B. (2017). The role of diet and nutrition on mental health and wellbeing. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society76(4), 425-426.

Parletta, N., Zarnowiecki, D., Cho, J., Wilson, A., Bogomolova, S., Villani, A., … & Segal, L. (2019). A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomized controlled trial (HELFIMED). Nutritional neuroscience22(7), 474-487.

Rao, T. S., Asha, M. R., Ramesh, B. N., & Rao, K. S. (2008). Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian journal of psychiatry50(2), 77–82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

Romagnolo, D. F., & Selmin, O. I. (2017). Mediterranean diet and prevention of chronic diseases. Nutrition today52(5), 208. https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00017285-201709000-00004

Rucklidge, J. J., & Kaplan, B. J. (2016). Nutrition and Mental Health. Clinical Psychological Science, 4(6), 1082–1084. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702616641050

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