**Note, I am not a doctor, a mental health professional, or a nutritionist. This article on the 5 Foods That Supplement Your Mental Health is not intended to provide treatment of any mental health and/or dietary condition**
I love food.
I know, I know, big shocker! But seriously, I’m one of those people that believes in the ultimate healing power of food. And not just through nutrition, but through the effect it can have on our mental health.
What do I mean? Well, do you have a certain food that just makes you do a happy dance whenever you eat it? Are there certain dishes that just fill up your soul and make your day instantly better?
I sure do! But why is it that some meals and foods make us feel better than others? Like way better?
Let’s find out!
How Does Food Affect Mental Health?
Did you know that certain foods can strongly impact your mental health?
According to this paper published by the National Institutes of Health, carbohydrates have the power to alter mood by releasing tryptophan, the amino acid precursor to serotonin. The same paper suggests that low carb diets can induce depression.
Foods rich in protein help our bodies produce neurotransmitters, like dopamine, that affect our brain chemistry (sources: Cambridge University Press: 02 January 2007 and The National Alliance on Mental Illness (MN Chapter)). People have long believed in the power of Omega 3 Fatty Acids (from fish oils) to treat depression. According to Harvard Medical School’s blog, countries where the diet is rich in fish and fish oil tend to have lower rates of depression.
There are also foods that affect your mental health negatively. Foods that spike your insulin like sugary soda or processed simple carbs have a strong effect on mood. Of course, alcohol isn’t great as it is a depressant. And caffeinated beverages like coffee can produce anxiety. (Source: WebMD)
The Science of Food and Mental Health
So, we know why certain foods are good (or bad) for us. But how does a big hunk of salmon or some eggs actually affect our brain chemistry?
Through Neurotransmitters and amino acids!
Here’s how it works. Say we eat a piece of turkey, which contains tryptophan. The turkey gets broken down by our bodies into teeny tiny pieces (amino acids). Some of those pieces are molecules of tryptophan.
In order to affect our brains, the tryptophan has to cross the Blood Brain Barrier. But it’s too big to do that. That’s why it must be converted into the nuerotransmitter 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). Neurotransmitters have special shapes and sizes that allow them to pass into the brain from the blood.
Once the 5-HTP makes it to the brain, it starts producing two important hormones: Serotonin and Melatonin (regulates circadian rhythm).
Foods That Supplement Your Mental Health
After that science lesson, I’m sure you’re curious to know what foods are best for our mental health. Without further ado, here’s the 5 Foods That Supplement Your Mental Health!
Eggs contain choline (not chlorine!) which is the precursor to acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine mainly affects your muscles (allowing them to contract). However it also helps your brain regulate mood and may help lower anxiety.
Eggs also are a great source of tryptophan and Vitamin D, both important in helping us stay mentally well. Plus they taste great 🙂
Salmon is all around a great food for mental health! It’s one of those foods high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Omega 3’s and 6’s have been linked to reduction in depression as well as inflammation in the body (which may or may not be involved in psychiatric conditions according to doctors).
Spinach and other leafy greens are high in B vitamins, which may play a role in your mental health. Moderate ingestion of spinach has also been linked to a reduction in stress and depression (National Institutes of Health). Spinach also contains tryptophan which helps produce Serotonin and Melatonin in the brain.
Oatmeal is great for mental health for so many reasons. First, oatmeal sticks to your ribs and is a great stress relieving meal. Second, whole grain oats are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which increase your Serotonin and raise blood sugar at a sustainable rate.
Just try to stay away from oatmeals with lots of processed sugar. I make mine from raw oats and add fruit for a little natural sweetness.
Scientists have linked barley to antidepressant qualities. Not only does it contain tryptophan, it also has selenium, copper manganese, all of which help soothe stress and give energy. Additionally, barley provides B-vitamins, which are amazing for fighting mental illness.
Many traditional recipes like Talbinah, Scottish Barley Pudding, and Barley Soup have been used in folk medicine for centuries. It has often been prescribed by moms all over the world to mend broken hearts and soothe sadness.
Hm, maybe they were on to something?
And there you have it, 5 foods that can supplement your mental health!
Of course a great diet is just one component of mental wellness. No food alone can cure or even treat a mental illness. These foods should be used as supplements to medications, therapy, and a complete wellness plan. It’s also important to remember that some foods may not interact well with certain medications (SSRIs and Grapefruit = NOPE). So it’s best to consult with your doctor before changing your diet.