As a dietitian, I know many of my clients wonder what are the best foods for mental health wellness. As nice as it would be, there isn’t a specific food you can eat to fulfill that goal. However, there are certainly some types of food you can incorporate to your diet that will work together to help you achieve mental health well-being.
In this article, we’ll go over 9 nutrition secrets that will not only teach you the best types of food for mental health to include in your diet, but that will also cover some nutrition habits that can have a mood-boosting effect in the long term.
NUTRITION’S ROLE IN MENTAL HEALTH WELLNESS
We are actually starting to see some research that says that what we eat can play a role in preventing and treating depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder and other common mental health disorders.
Making certain strategic nutritional choices can provide your body with essential brain-boosting nutrients that will have a positive impact on your mood and mental well-being over time.
Of course, several other factors come into play when it comes to mental health wellness, such as therapy, physical activity and good sleeping habits to name a few. Nutrition is a piece of the puzzle and cannot cure a mental health disorder alone, but it can definitely give the healing process a helpful push.
Let’s get started and have a look at these 9 nutrition secrets, and find out how you can use food for mental health wellness!
NUTRITION SECRET #1: CONVENIENCE IS COSTING YOU
My clients often tell me that when they are very busy, they don’t have time to go to the grocery store or to cook dinner, especially on weeknights. This is why some of them make the choice to rely on convenient food products like processed frozen meals or even just a bag of chips or cookies.
Now, it’s fine if this happens on a few occasions, but if it becomes a regular habit, this type of diet can be quite problematic. The pro-inflammatory diet is high in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats, but low in nutrients that may play a role in how well our brain functions.
Inflammatory diets have actually been linked to a higher risk of experiencing depression symptoms, so cleaning up your diet and carefully reading the labels of the processed foods you do eat can help to improve your overall mood in the long term.
NUTRITION SECRET #2: TRY THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
On the other end of the spectrum, the Mediterranean Diet consists mostly of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses, fish and seafood. It also includes some fermented dairy such as yogurt or cheese, as well as some chicken or other fowl.
Since this diet is extremely nutrient dense, giving it a try is a great way to ensure your brain gets enough fuel to function properly, which will in turn help to alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms.
If going all in seems too overwhelming at first, you could try gradually adding certain types of foods found in the Mediterranean Diet to your meals and work your way up from there. If you’re still feeling hesitant to give it a try, you might just need to implement some simple strategies that will help you boost your motivation to eat healthy.
NUTRITION SECRET #3: LOAD UP ON OMEGA 3 ACIDS
We all know that eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids has many health benefits, but it also seems that Omega-3 fatty acids are an important nutrient to take into consideration when dealing with depression through nutrition.
Some studies have shown that people who suffer from depression may have some inflammation in their brain and that consuming a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce it and to maintain brain cognition.
Omega-3 fatty acids also play a role in facilitating serotonin transport, a neurochemical that has been linked to depression, anxiety, panic and other mental health disorders when deficient.
Some of the best foods for mental health that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids include fish and seafood, chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts, to name a few. Make sure to experiment and have fun including more of these into your diet daily – your body will definitely thank you!
NUTRITION SECRET #4: HEALTHY GUT, HEALTHY MIND
Having an unhealthy gut biome (or gut bacteria) can contribute to depression and other mental health disorders. There are actually studies that show that altering our gut biome is linked to changes in our mood.
Maintaining healthy gut bacteria is actually quite easy. Simply consume adequate amounts of fibre and include some fermented foods containing good bacteria to your diet.
The great part? By taking part in the Mediterranean Diet (see nutrition secret #2), these two things are automatically taken care of. As an added bonus, the fibre found in the foods from this diet will keep you full for longer periods of time, which may in turn help limit your daily caloric intake.
Some examples of fermented foods to include in your diet for depression and anxiety are kimchi, sauerkraut or yogurt with active bacterial cultures. These are all wonderful versatile additions to your diet and pack a ton of flavour.
NUTRITION SECRET #5: EATING OUT AT RESTAURANTS
Often when someone is depressed and tired, shopping, cooking and cleaning up afterwards can be overwhelming. This often leads to consuming more restaurant or take-out meals.
These are usually higher in calories, refined carbohydrates, sodium and saturated fats while containing fewer nutrients. Subclinical deficiencies in some vitamins and minerals have been linked to feeling fatigued and to feeling depressed.
If you often feel exhausted, anxious or depressed, you can improve your energy levels with nutrition by tweaking the way you eat and by implementing simple energy-boosting lifestyle habits to your routine.
NUTRITION SECRET #6: SKIP THE ADDED SUGARS
Think that high sugar snack will be the key to increasing your energy levels and make you happier? Think again. Eating high sugar snacks has actually been linked to feeling tired and lethargic!
In fact, when we ask people about their mood after they have eaten a high sugar snack they are more likely to be in a bad mood and feel more anxious or depressed. So give up eating foods likes sweet treats, and desserts to give your energy levels a boost.
NUTRITION SECRET #7: VARY YOUR PROTEIN SOURCES
In the same vein as skipping the sugar, including an appropriate amount of protein to your diet will help maintain your blood sugar levels. Protein actually slows the digestion process, which means that sugar is released at a slower rate into the body for a constant flow of energy.
Varying your protein sources will also help you get more mood-boosting nutrients in your diet. Be sure to include some good sources of protein each time you eat such as eggs, low-fat cheese, almonds, pulses, or even some fish or seafood.
NUTRITION SECRET #8: NOT ALL CARBS ARE CREATED EQUAL
When choosing carbohydrate-rich foods to include in your diet, make sure that they have a low glycemic index to reduce the fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. For example, whole grain cereal, whole grain pasta, sweet potato and oatmeal are all great low glycemic sources of carbohydrates that are rich in mood-boosting nutrients.
Highly processed carbohydrate sources tend to have a higher glycemic index, which makes for a noticeable spike, leaving you feeling drained and lethargic. If you were wondering how can you improve your mental health with nutrition, this simple switch is a great place to start.
NUTRITION SECRET #9: KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR VITAMIN D
It is also important to make sure that you are consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin D, as its deficiency is closely linked to some mental health disorders such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Current data suggests that the vitamin D status for most Canadians is lacking, which can greatly affect their overall mood. Therefore, it is important to take our vitamin D supplements daily, especially during the winter months and to take advantage of the sunlight whenever possible.