More and more research is shedding light on the link between our diet and our mental health. Although researchers are still continuing to learn more about the way nutrition affects mental wellbeing, increasing evidence suggests that following a healthy diet can help promote mental health.
How What You Eat Affects The Way You Feel
It's no surprise that we tend to feel better when we do our best to follow a healthy lifestyle. This means one where we get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, stick to a healthy diet, and move sufficiently. But did you know that certain foods can have a direct impact on our mood? It's all to do with what they contain. Certain nutrients have been shown to help support better mood and wellbeing thanks to the key vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they contain. These tend to be found in "real food", or whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, natural sources of protein, and unrefined grains. On the other hand, highly processed foods that contain refined sugars and saturated fats can negatively impact our diet quality. To put it simply, a diet rich in healthy food does a better job of supplying us with these than a poor diet.
Here's a list of some of the most essential nutrients to help boost your mood. If you're looking to support better mental well being, try to incorporate some of these in your diet.
8 Nutrients for Better Mental and Physical Health
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a family of beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids that help nourish and lubricate every part of your body from within. These healthy fats are typically known for supporting heart, skin, and eye health.
However, more and more evidence has pointed to the significant role omega-3 fatty acids play in maintaining brain health. In fact, a 2016 study even suggested that being deficient in this healthy fat may be linked to a higher risk of mental health issues.
Omega-3s are found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, walnuts, and chia seeds. According to the WHO, healthy adults should be consuming about 1-2 servings of oily fish per week. Yet, many people don't follow a diet rich in these types of oily fish and may struggle to eat so much fish every week. This is where a fish oil supplement such as Primal Omega 3, can come in handy. For those following a plant-based diet, try including more nuts and seeds in your diet (there's a reason why they're sometimes called brain food!).
Several studies now show that our gut health is closely tied to pretty much every major health system in our bodies. And our minds are no exception.
Recent research on what’s known as the “Gut-Brain Axis” has been shedding light on how the bacteria in our gut may potentially influence the way we feel. Some of these studies suggest that the bacteria in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system, creating a link between the gut and the brain.
Adding probiotics to your diet can help to balance the gut microbiota by introducing so-called “beneficial” bacteria to the gut. Foods rich in probiotics include fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso, and kimchi. Taking a probiotic supplement is also a convenient way to include a variety of different probiotic strains to support stable gut flora.
Dietary fiber is basically the non-digestible part of plant foods. Also known as ‘roughage’, fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in certain vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, and nuts. It plays a huge role in supporting our digestive health and is considered an essential nutrient, which means that it should be included as part of a well-balanced diet.
Oatmeal is a great source of fiber and is a perfect way to start the day. Eating breakfast on a regular basis has been linked to fewer symptoms of depression, according to a 2017 study. Eating a high-fiber food for breakfast helps to keep blood sugar levels stable which can help prevent irritability.
Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is essential for the proper function of nearly every tissue in the body including skin, heart, brain, and immune system.
Researchers have also suggested that vitamin D can potentially help to increase serotonin levels in the body.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the body. Sometimes referred to as the “happy chemical”, it is responsible for regulating mood, emotions, sleep, appetite, and digestion. Researchers believe it could be why a vitamin D deficiency may be connected to seasonal affective disorder. Good sources of vitamin D include cheese, egg yolks, and vitamin-D fortified foods such as orange juice, milk, and some plant-based milks.
B-vitamins are important for our cognitive function and supporting a healthy brain. They help to produce chemicals in the brain that can affect our mood, cognitive function, and help us produce energy. Having more energy can help us participate in more activities and feel better during the day.
This is why they are often included in cognitive support supplements like Primal Mind Fuel. This nootropic supplement includes revolutionary CogniPlex B-Vitamins which includes vitamins B6, B12 and B1.
A 2019 review published in Nutrients stated that deficiencies in B vitamins, B12 and folate (B9), may be linked to mental health conditions. The review stated that not eating enough of these vitamins is “associated with increased risk and incidence of depression.” Some great sources of B vitamins include dark leafy greens, eggs, legumes, dairy, turkey, beef, liver and nutritional yeast.
Amino acids are sometimes thought of as “building blocks” necessary for creating proteins. Our brain chemicals and circuitry are created from proteins, which makes amino acids essential for brain health - and therefore our mood.
Our bodies need amino acids like tryptophan to produce vital mood-regulating hormones such as serotonin. Food sources of amino acids include seafood, eggs, nuts, and legumes.
However it may be hard to consume enough of these amino acids through diet alone, which is why they are also available in supplement form under the names like l-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan.
Antioxidants are key for helping to fight harmful free radicals which can cause oxidative stress and damage the cells in our body - including our brain cells. Adding antioxidants like vitamins A, C, or E to your diet can help to deliver potent antioxidants. Blueberries, raspberries, kale, green tea, olive oil, and acerola cherry are all great sources of vitamins and antioxidants.
Two of the key minerals for maintaining cognitive function are zinc and magnesium.
Zinc plays an important role in regulating the way our bodies and brains respond to stress. Researchers have even drawn connections between low levels of zinc and depression. Interestingly enough, the same can be said of magnesium. Studies suggest that magnesium deficiency is linked to depression and that magnesium supplementation may even help symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The Bottom Line
Many experts agree that people take a look at the relationship between their diet and mental wellbeing. They suggest taking a close look at the foods they eat over a month or at least two weeks and paying attention to how they feel. They recommend making changed in typical dietary patterns by reducing or eliminating processed foods and sugars for this period of time while adding more nutrient dense food.
Many traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are known to include mostly nutritious whole foods that are minimally processed. However, one of the main reasons that some people are unable to choose foods such as these is because they are simply too busy. In that case, it may also be useful to get some additional support from nutritional supplements, to help fill in any nutritional gaps.
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