Treating Mental Health With Food

Treating Mental Health With Food

The axiom that you are what you eat is evident, especially with the increase of research on this subject. Researchers have increasingly been studying the effects of diet and nutrition on mental health. Many researchers who have been studying the effects of one’s diet on their mental health revealed that a Western diet that constitutes highly processed food and added sugars, have higher risks of developing anxiety and depression. While the majority of the research to date has focused on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, other dietary regimes may also have a positive effect on mental health. We have drawn up several brain foods that can improve mental health and wellness too.


Wild-caught fish, especially the ‘fatty’ varieties such as salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, and tuna, are great to battle depression because they are rich in omega-3 fats. This property traverses easily through the brain cell membrane and interacts with mood-related molecules inside the brain. These fishes also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.


When eaten in moderation, most nuts are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as protein. But walnuts get the edge when it comes to lessening the symptoms of depression because they also are one of the richest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a great source of protein, keeping blood sugar levels at a healthy balance. This was evident in a study that revealed those who consumed about 1/4 cup of walnuts per day were 26% lower on the depression score. In another instance where researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, they found that adults who ate walnuts had higher levels of optimism, energy, hope, concentration and a greater interest in activities.


Nutrient-dense food like beans are a great source of protein, fibre, iron and magnesium. The former helps maintain stable and consistent blood sugar levels, which can affect our moods if it spikes.  In addition to helping minimise the blood sugar spikes and dips that can affect our mood. Beans are also robust with folate — a vitamin B that aids production of red blood cells, DNA and RNA and metabolise proteins. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are high in folate, featuring the daily recommended value in just half a cup.


Flaxseed and chia seeds are wholesome additions to your diet and interestingly enough,  these seeds help fend off depression. As with some of the other foods mentioned, these They serve as great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial in supporting overall brain function because your nervous system is made out of mostly fat. The signals from your brain — your thoughts, feelings, instructions for muscles and organs literally travel from cell to cell along a membrane of fatty acid. Just one tablespoon of chia seeds provides approximately 61% of your daily recommended amount of omega-3 and 1 tablespoon of flaxseed provides roughly 39% of the daily recommendation. Besides that, you can turn to pumpkin and squash seeds for tryptophan — an essential amino acid that helps create serotonin. Pumpkin and squash seeds provide approximately 58% of the recommended daily intake of tryptophan in just one ounce.


Poultry such as chicken and turkey are sources of lean protein or an amino acid called tryptophan that helps in serotonin production. It essentially keeps you in a well-balanced state of mind and mood. Try consuming protein several times a day, especially when you need to clear your mind and boost your energy. Just three ounces of roasted chicken breast offers 123% of the recommended daily intake of tryptophans.


Vegetables are nutrient-rich, thus making it essential for health, especially if you’re struggling with depression. Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard are robust in folate, fibre, minerals, phytochemicals and a host of wonderful nutrients. Leafy greens also fight against all kinds of inflammation, which depression has been linked to. You can find alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in vegetables — one of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, the other two being DHA and EPA.


Probiotics are good bacteria that are found in natural food like yoghurt and kimchi. Of late, there has been an increase in research linking good gut health with good mental health. Several studies demonstrated that the colony of microorganisms that live in your gut, including probiotics, play a key role in mood regulation by reducing inflammation in your body. It also  produces feel-good neurotransmitters, and neutralises your stress response.


Not only is it palatable, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries possess some of the highest antioxidants available to us. Picture antioxidants as repairmen who repairs cells and helps combat inflammation caused by free radical damage (caused by pollution, cigarette smoke and a myriad of other impurities). By reducing the damages caused by the aforementioned nasties, the antioxidants may improve symptoms related to anxiety and depression. The added bonus of consuming berries, especially blueberries and strawberries is a component called polyphenolics, which have been found to improve memory, concentration and attention span.


Lactobacillus, a friendly bacteria present in yoghurt, according to research is said to reverse depression-like symptoms in mice by changing their gut microbiome, thanks to the brain-gut connection. The probiotics in yoghurt elevate an individual’s mental health by lowering stress levels, anxiety and depression.


What’s life without carbs? According to studies, many wholegrains are naturally rich in tryptophan, which is required by the body to produce serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin, the ‘feel-good hormone’ improves mood and relaxes the brain and body, while melatonin helps establish and maintain steady sleep cycles. Thus, it’s quite evident how food high in tryptophan may help keep depression at bay and promote healthy sleeping patterns — both essential to mental well being and health.