Proper nutrition is very important for our physical health, but it’s also just as essential for our mental health. Some nutrients are particularly important for mental health, and for conditions such as depression. The following points are some general healthy eating tips to best help us protect or improve our mental health. Please note that these guidelines are not prescriptive. If you currently are or feel you may be suffering from depression, please seek guidance from a physician and/or mental health professional.
- Eat Regularly: The brain requires a steady supply of nutrients and energy in order to function properly. If we skip meals, particularly breakfast, our blood sugars can run low and we may feel lethargic, irritable and confused. Getting your body into a routine of eating regular meals and snacks is vital for both physical and mental well-being.
- Incorporate more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes: These types of foods are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals which the brain requires. They also provide a good energy source that is digested more slowly, preventing dramatic spikes and dips in blood sugars that more refined and processed carbohydrates can result in. Additionally, these foods are good sources of folate and zinc, two nutrients that are important in mental health.
- Include a source of protein at every meal: One of the amino acids (building blocks of protein), called tryptophan, is particularly important for depression. Tryptophan is needed to create serotonin, which is a chemical in our brain that elevates our mood. Incorporating a lean protein source at every meal can help us get proper amounts of tryptophan. Lean protein sources include: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and dairy.
- Include a source of omega-3 fatty acids: Some research studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can help alleviate some symptoms of depression. Although research isn’t conclusive in this area, eating sources of omega-3 fats is beneficial for various other reasons, like reducing heart disease risk. Try to incorporate oily fish at least twice per week. Some examples of oily fish include: salmon, tuna (fresh only), mackerel, sardines, herring, pilchards and trout. If you don’t like oily fish, you can use a fish oil supplement. Look for a brand that is enteric coated. You can take up to a total of 1 g per day. Additionally, some vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats include: ground flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, walnut oil and canola oil.
- Stay properly hydrated: Dehydration can result in headaches, irritability and mental confusion. Drinking enough water is important for various reasons, including proper brain and body functions. Try and drink 8 cups of water every day.
In general, it is better to get nutrients like vitamins and minerals from food as opposed to a nutritional supplement. If you haven’t been eating well, or you feel like your meal plan is not particularly well-balanced, you may benefit from a nutritional supplement. Look for a general multivitamin and mineral supplement that provides 50-100% of the recommended daily value for each nutrient. However, you should still pan to eat a healthy, balanced diet as nutritional supplements do not provide all the benefits that come from eating whole food.
Healthy, balanced eating is so vital for our physical health, but more importantly, it’s vital for our mental health and overall well-being.
Edited from a post written by: Rachel Cope MPH, RC, CD