Food has a profound effect on almost every aspect of your physical health and mental health. For example, research shows that nutrition can reduce your risk of developing depression and can even help alleviate symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
When it comes to the nutrients themselves, several are considered to have “antidepressant” roles in the body. They include folate, iron, omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc. Eating foods rich in these nutrients supports your mental health.
Neurotransmitters have very important roles when it comes to moods. You may have heard of serotonin and the connection between low serotonin, poor moods, appetite, and depression. In fact, several medications prescribed for depression try to improve levels of serotonin. What does this have to do with nutrition and food? Several nutrients are involved in producing serotonin. If these nutrients are low our serotonin levels suffer. The health of our gut is also critical to serotonin production. Recent evidence shows that a whopping 90 percent of serotonin receptors in the body are located—not in the brain—but, in the digestive system. Restoring gut health can unlock multiple health benefits including mood boosting effects.
Inflammation is yet another connection between what we eat and our mental health. People with depression tend to have higher levels of inflammation. Those who eat a more anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet and minimize sugary and processed foods have reduced inflammation and reduced risks for depression and anxiety.
Eating Delicious Foods to Support Your Mood
Try these foundational mood-boosting nutrition strategies to support your best health:
Enjoy more fruits and vegetables.
● Ask yourself, “Do I have a vegetable or fruit with this meal?”
● Fight inflammation, add a range of colorful plants to your plate.
● Choose unsweetened fruits and vegetables over juices.
Eat fiber-rich foods
● In addition to fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes are high in fiber.
Eat fermented and probiotic-rich foods
● Examples of fermented foods include plain yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, etc.
● When shopping, look for fermented foods in the refrigerator section and purchase ones with a label stating, "live active cultures".
Sweet Tooth? Retrain Your Tastebuds
● Discover the natural sweetness in whole foods and ensure you’re eating balanced meals that include vegetables, protein, healthy fats, and accents of complex carbohydrates.
Reach for healthy proteins
● Choose seafood, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs, and lean poultry over red meat.
Avoid pro-inflammatory foods as often as you can
● Highly processed foods that are high in trans-fat, saturated fat, refined flours, and sugar are linked to higher levels of inflammation.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fats
● Enjoy 2 servings per week of fatty fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring.
● Enjoy daily: 1-2 tablespoons of chia seed, flax seed, hemp seed, flax oil, or walnuts.
Gundlach Nutrition offers integrative and functional nutrition care, including micronutrient and mood profile nutrition lab panels.
If you are experiencing severe depression or other mental health issues, you may need additional help beyond food, so see your licensed healthcare provider.