The Relationship Between Diet & Mental Health
Updated: Oct 10
Nutrition not only impacts our physical health, but it has a profound impact on our mental well-being. Did you know that brain chemistry can be affected by certain nutrients in food, hence impacting our mental health?
Research shows that increased inflammation in the body can negatively affect our mental health status. Hence, eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can have a positive affect on our mood by influencing brain hormones.
There is also fascinating research on the relationship between a healthy gut and mental health! Eating foods that promote a gut health are linked to lower chances of developing depressive symptoms.
Although there are many diet factors that can influence our mental well-being like certain nutrients namely magnesium and zinc, below I am focusing on 4 ways to boost your mood with food!
4 Ways to Improve your Mental Health with Food
Eating foods like dark green vegetables including spinach, kale and broccoli that are high in folate haven been linked to lower levels of depression, as folate can increase serotonin levels (also known as the happy hormone), positively affecting our mood! Other good sources of folate include whole grains, enriched grain products as well as peas, beans, lentils & edamame.
The brain is almost 60% fat, hence eating healthy fats are essential for proper brain function! Omega-3 fats, which are crucial in optimizing many functions of the brain are considered “essential fatty acids”, meaning we need to get them through the diet as the body cannot make them.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the two types of omega-3s found in fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring. DHA ensures brain development of the fetus & infant and proper brain function throughout life. EPA can reduce the adverse effects of stress on the body & are anti-inflammatory, hence reduce brain inflammation, which can positively affect our mood. Studies have shown a relationship between omega-3 intake (combination of DHA & EPA) and apparent benefits for depression and suicide.
Disclaimer : Always check with your doctor before starting any dose of omega-3 supplements, especially if pregnant, nursing, taking blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder.
Vitamin D is crucial for brain function including mood and critical thinking. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to depression. Research suggests decreased Vitamin D production as a result of reduced sunlight in winter months can be a contributing factor in “Seasonal Affective Disorder”.
Natural food sources of Vitamin D are limited and include fatty fish like salmon, cow’s milk, eggs yolks, margarine as well as some fortified foods like fortified soy/rice beverages, fortified orange juice as well as fortified yogurts!
As food sources of Vitamin D are limited, supplementation is a viable option for some. Most studies suggest the benefit of Vitamin D supplementation if your levels are low. If your Vitamin D levels are not low, supplementation is not likely to make much of a difference in your mood!
Fibre & Prebiotics
There is more and more research coming out on the “gut-brain connection”. The gut is often referred to as the “second brain”. Studies have shown that those who consume a high fibre diet, promoting a healthy gut have a lower chance of developing symptoms of depression.
The gut uses fibre as food for the bacteria and signals are sent to the brain, which can decrease inflammatory responses. Also, serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced by gut bacteria, which regulates stress and inflammatory responses, which in turn can influence mood!
Prebiotics are the “food” for the probiotics (healthy bacteria) in the gut. We often hear a lot about the health benefits of including probiotics in our diet, but less is mentioned about the importance of prebiotics that act as the fuel for the probiotics!
You can get prebiotics by eating more of foods like onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and artichokes. Other good sources include fruits & vegetables like bananas, yams, and sweet potatoes!
Also, having too much spikes and drops in blood sugars throughout the day can cause mood swings. Eating foods that are high in fibre, help with stabilizing blood sugar levels, which can positively affect our mood!