Nutrition and Mental Health: March is American National Nutrition Month

23 Mar by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

Nutrition and Mental Health

In recent years, much of the emerging research on nutrition is centered on investigating the use of food for mental health wellness. And while the role of nutrition in mental health has been identified, there is some debate regarding which foods are most beneficial. Nonetheless, there are some generally accepted suggestions regarding the types of food that can provide the most benefit.

Eating with mental health in mind, it is important to include:

  • Omega-3s – omega-3 fatty acids are shown to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Additionally, there is evidence omega-3s boost the effectiveness of traditional antidepressant medications and help manage attention-deficit disorder symptoms. Some foods rich in omega 3s are chia seeds, walnuts, Alaskan salmon, and flaxseed.
  • Probiotics – probiotics decrease inflammation, which affect the gut positively by reducing stress signals in the body. Some studies indicate probiotics also transform amino acids to serotonin. Foods containing probiotics include yogurt, cultured vegetables (such as kimchi and sauerkraut), apple cider vinegar, and tempeh.
  • Vitamin D – research shows rates of depression increase in those who lack adequate levels of vitamin D. Fish such as tuna and salmon contain vitamin D, as well as milk, orange juice, and some cereals.
  • Water – getting enough water prevents dehydration. Dehydration can cause fatigue, mood changes, and impaired concentration.

How Does Nutrition Affect Mental Health?

Food affects the brain in various ways, including:

  • Brain development – food turns into protein building blocks, brain tissue, enzymes, and neurotransmitters, thus assisting the brain in development.
  • Brain growth – certain diets and specific nutrients contribute to connectivity between brain cells, which assist in brain function.
  • Healthy bacteria – depending on one’s food choices, there may be more or less healthy bacteria in the gut. This healthy bacteria is central to the connection between nutrition and mental health, as it fights off germs and assists in keeping the immune system strong. A healthy gut keeps inflammation in check; and inflammation plays a vital role in cognition and mood.

Although nourishing ones’ body may seem to be one of the simplest forms of mental health maintenance, it is also often the most overlooked. Making small dietary changes can significantly improve your nutrition and mental health. To find out more about the role of nutrition in mental health, or to inquire about mental health services, contact HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York at 518-218-1188.