Good nutrition for mental health
We are all familiar with the traditional tactics for improving our mental health: exercising, socializing, soaking up sunlight, having hobbies, meditating and such. Each of these is beneficial and contributes to our well-being.
But did you know that what you eat can also profoundly impact your mental health and risk of conditions like depression?
Let’s discuss the connection and go over some practical tips for eating better.
The Link Between Your Nutrition And Mental Health
The human body is an incredibly complicated piece of biological machinery that requires a range of nutrients to function optimally. Lacking any essential nutrients prevents the body from carrying out its internal processes, increasing the risk of various health problems.
Following a balanced diet based on whole and nutritious foods reduces the risk of nutrient deficiencies and allows the body to produce the hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters to maintain optimal brain health.
A notable example is tryptophan––an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Getting adequate amounts of the amino acid promotes healthy serotonin production, which regulates our mood, sleep, digestion, sexual desire, etc.
Nutrients With Crucial Functions Related to Brain and Mental Health
1. Vitamin C
While most people see vitamin C as a nutrient we should take when dealing with the common cold, its effects are far more nuanced. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that protects the body’s cells from oxidative stress. The effects are even more critical in the brain because processes occur more quickly, and neurons are more susceptible to damage from unstable molecules.
Foods rich in vitamin C include kiwi, citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and white potatoes.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids support blood flow to the brain, which is associated with better performance on various cognitive tasks. Interestingly, researchers have noted that nations consuming more fish have lower depression levels.
One possible mechanism is that EPA and DHA (the two primary omega-3s) can easily pass through the brain cell membrane and interact with molecules and receptors responsible for mood regulation.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish––salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, etc.
3. B Vitamins
There are eight B vitamins collectively known as the vitamin B complex. Researchers suggest that having adequate levels of all B vitamins puts us at a lower risk of mental disorders, including anxiety. For instance, lower folic acid (vitamin B9) levels are linked to a higher risk of depression.
Foods rich in B vitamins include organ meat, cheese, eggs, fish and seafood and dark leafy greens.
4. Zinc and Magnesium
Zinc and magnesium are two essential minerals with numerous functions related to immunity, metabolism and brain health. For instance, a zinc deficiency is linked to impaired neurogenesis (the formation of neurons in the brain) and impaired synaptic activity (signals moving from one brain cell to another). Deficiency is also connected to a higher risk of depression and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Similarly, increasing your magnesium intake can protect you from depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues.
Great zinc and magnesium sources include shellfish, nuts, seeds, legumes, yogurt, soybeans and similar.
Eating the right foods is vital for providing your body with the nutrients it needs to function well. On top of that, you can consider supplements, such as fish oil and multivitamins, because these provide a concentrated dose of nutrients that promote mental health and keep depression and similar conditions at bay.
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