If you suffer from mental health issues like anxiety or depression, your nutritional habits are likely one of the contributors. Nutrition doesn’t just play a key role in our physical well-being but in our emotional and mental well-being as well. In this article, we will explore the link between nutrition and mental health and look at ways to improve our diet to boost mental health.
Effect of nutrition on mental health
The link between diet and your mood can be explained by the close relationship between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). Your GI tract houses billions of gut bacteria that play a part in the production of serotonin and dopamine hormones. Research shows that gut bacteria synthesize 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin.
These two hormones are also commonly referred to as happiness hormones and play a key role in regulating emotions, mood and affect cognitive function and our ability to focus. Imbalances in the level of these hormones can lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue, inability to focus, and insomnia. It’s essential to consume food that promotes gut health and increases the number of gut bacteria so your gut can keep producing these hormones.
The brain can also synthesize serotonin and dopamine, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and vitamin D aid the process. A diet lacking the necessary nutrients can result in low happiness hormones and deteriorating mental health.
Diet tips to boost mental health
You can include many foods in your diet to keep your levels of happiness hormones normal and promote gut health. These include whole foods, fermented foods, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals. It can be hard to plan a diet for yourself which includes all of the necessary nutrients. You can get the professional opinion of a nutricionista online to help you with it.
Vitamins and minerals
You must have a diet rich in Vit C, B vitamins, Vit D, Magnesium, and Zinc for normal serotonin and dopamine levels. Sources of Vit C include citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, mangoes, potatoes, and papaya. B vitamins can be obtained through eggs, milk, meat and poultry, fish, and fortified cereals. Rich sources of Magnesium and Zinc include almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, beans, chickpeas, and dark chocolate.
Tryptophan is an amino acid converted to serotonin and melatonin – the sleep hormone – by our body. Low levels of tryptophan can lead to anxiety and depression and cause sleep disturbances which can aggravate stress and negative feelings. It is an essential amino acid, which means that your body can’t synthesise it, and it has to be obtained through diet. Tryptophan-rich sources include turkey, salmon, eggs, and milk.
Refined, fast, and junk foods contain high calories and low nutrients. Studies have suggested that people who consume too much-processed foods are at a greater risk of depression. Focus on incorporating nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet instead, like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains like brown rice, barley, oats, nuts, beans, and eggs.
Probiotics are a mixture of bacteria/yeast that can be introduced to your gut, increase the numbers of healthy gut bacteria, and promote gut health. Rich sources of probiotics include fermented foods like yogurt, pickles, some cheeses, sourdough bread, and kimchi. Probiotics can also be obtained through supplements.
The importance of a healthy diet for mental health can’t be understated. Try to incorporate whole foods, fruits, and vegetables rich in essential vitamins and minerals and foods that promote gut health, and avoid processed foods as much as you can. Aim to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle. You will notice a significant difference in your sleeping habits and emotional and mental well-being.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.