Good health starts with good nutrition. This is also true for mental health. Here are five categories of foods and nutrients that may help keep you both healthy and happy.
1. Carbohydrates – When we eat breads, rice, and pasta our bodies convert these foods to glucose (sugar) which is what our brains need to help us think clearly and feel our best. Consuming whole grain carbohydrates (brown or wild rice, bulgur, and oats) will provide your brain with a longer lasting source of glucose making you feel happier, longer!
2. Omega-3 fatty acids – Salmon, mackerel, and trout are good sources of these healthy fats. Not only do these fats help protect the heart, but they may protect some of the neurological connections in our brains as well. Add fish to your weekly menu… your brain will thank you for it!
3. Vitamin D – This important vitamin increases serotonin levels in the brain which may prevent feelings of depression. Mushrooms, whole milk, and fish contain vitamin D. Exposing skin to sunlight (without sunscreen) also triggers our bodies to make vitamin D naturally! If you are fair skinned check with your dermatologist before using this method.
4. Beans and legumes – High in folate, which is most often associated with maintaining gut health, we often forget that folate has also been associated with fewer depressive symptoms particularly in the elderly.
5. Nuts and seeds – A favorite mid-afternoon pick-me-up snack, nuts and seeds are good sources of an important mineral, selenium. There is some evidence that selenium helps reduce symptoms of depression and improve mood.
6. Probiotics – when consumed regularly, those that take probiotic supplements reported having lower perceived levels of stress and anxiety when compared to those that don’t take these supplements. It is possible that these good bacteria not only help with digestion, but may decrease the amount of inflammation throughout the body, and improve mood! We need more research to know whether this mechanism truly exists, but the research so far appears very promising.
7. Unprocessed grains – full of B-vitamins which, if missing from the diet, may lead to feelings of irritability and depression. This is because B-vitamins are needed to help our bodies create serotonin, a good-feeling hormone. Preventing B-vitamin deficiencies can be relatively simple by incorporating whole, unprocessed grains into your diet!
8. Cobalamin (Vitamin B-12) – this is one of the B-vitamins mentioned above, but B-12 is unique when compared to its B-vitamin cousins. Its most active form is only found in animal products like lean animal products, such as fish, poultry and eggs. Low levels of B-12 has been linked with symptoms of depression.
9. Chocolate – chocolate help elevate mood, but before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that 1 oz. of dark chocolate would likely do that trick… one whole chocolate bar isn’t necessary! Artificial trans fats can also be found in some forms of chocolate which may lead to an increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Moderation is key!
By Neal Malik, DrPH, MPH, RDN, CHES, EP-C, associate professor, Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness program at Bastyr University California.