Nutrition is a vital part of our well-being. They say we are what we eat for a reason – just like fuel, the food we consume defines our health. Our diet not only affects many functions in our body but also influences our mental health. Mental health counsellors and psychiatrists around the globe have found various links between the food we eat and our mood and cognitive function. In this article, we will guide you through the best foods to improve your mental health.
What is the connection between diet and mental health?
An emerging mental health studies field, Nutritional Psychiatry, has been involved in analysing how nutrition affects mental health and the development of depression. Multiple studies have found links between our dietary patterns and the risks of developing depression.
For example, a 2019 review of studies in 21 countries suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet consisting of vegetables, fish, whole grains, lean meat and no processed foods led to improvements in mental health and reduced risks of depression. This is because such a diet is rich in vitamins and micronutrients that benefit the brain, cognitive function and mood. Proper nutrition can, therefore, positively influence our overall well-being.
On the other hand, a review published in the Harvard Health journal found that a diet high in refined sugars may impose adverse effects on your brain and nervous system, slowing down some processes in your brain and stimulating inflammation in your gut. Another study also links consumption of processed foods and soda drinks with higher levels of depression among adolescents. Micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition may affect not only the physical but mental development of a child and teenagers. That is why it is important to keep track of your nutrient levels from the early years and ensure your diet is rich in essential nutrients.
Foods beneficial for your mental health and cognitive function
A new 2020 study from the Clinical Nutrition journal suggests that a healthy plant-based diet may be correlated to lower risks of depression and anxiety, especially among women. For that matter, leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach and Swiss chard, are rich in folate and B-vitamins – nutrients that are beneficial for brain function and mental health. Folate is a nutrient that helps form new cells and regulates the nervous system and cognitive function.
Lean protein meats
Chicken and turkey are lean protein meats that contain the acid-tryptophan. This type of amino acids play an important role in regulating your mood and emotion-processing, as well as producing serotonin – a hormone of “happiness”.
Cold water seafood
According to a study from the journal of Nutritional Science, fish and seafood rich in omega-3 acids help produce neurotransmitters. They are associated with better brain function and lower dementia and depression risks. Salmon and other fish that is found in cold waters are considered to be especially rich in omega-3. Other sources of omega-3 are mussels, sardines, tuna, mackerel, trout, oysters and herring.
Foods that fall into the category of whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that help to produce glucose more slowly rather than simple carbohydrates do. That leads to a longer energy span for your brain and body. In addition, whole grains assist your brain in absorbing tryptophan amino acids. That means that if you eat lean meat proteins, like chicken and turkey, with a whole grain side dish, it may lead to an increased benefit to your mental health. Whole grains include oats, beans, soy, whole wheat pasta and wild rice.
Nuts can be easily considered to be mood boosters for many reasons. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, adding nuts to your diet can boost your memory skills and cognitive function by 60 per cent. Importantly, nuts also act as another source of omega-3 – the one suitable for vegans. In addition, cashews become an excellent source of magnesium – a nutrient that plays a vital role in regulating the nervous system and mood.