Feeling blue or consistently anxious? Good nutrition is essential for our mental health and a number of mental health conditions may be influenced by dietary factors. Studies have shown that a balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be achieved with a diet that provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water. We've rounded up a few essential vitamins and minerals for good mental health.
Folate (Folic Acid, Vitamin B9)
Increased intake of folate is associated with a lower risk of depression.
Folate is especially important for pregnant women, but everyone needs folic acid for production of cells. It is especially important for healthy hair, skin, nails, eyes, liver and red blood cell production.
Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains have high amounts of folate, or folic acid.
Rates of depression are higher in people with Vitamin D deficiency compared to people who have adequate levels of vitamin D. Lack of Vitamin D is thought to play a role in Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is depression that commonly starts in the fall, lasts through winter and subsides in the sunnier spring and summer months.
Vitamin D is needed to help the body absorb calcium for strong teeth and bones, and the health of muscles and the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with heart disease and increased risk of heart attacks.
Most foods do not naturally have Vitamin D, but many are “Vitamin D fortified.” Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have the most naturally occurring Vitamin D. Other foods like milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals have Vitamin D added.
Our bodies also produce Vitamin D as a result of being in the sun. Five to thirty minutes of sun exposure twice a week generally produces enough Vitamin D, with lighter-skinned people requiring less time than those with darker skin. Time in the sun beyond the suggested amounts above requires use of sunscreen to prevent skin damage and reduce risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D supplements may be used in fall and winter months.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Some studies suggest that omega-3s may be helpful in the treatment of depression and seem to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Omega-3 essential fatty acids may also help boost the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants and help young people with ADHD.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be important in reducing inflammation, the primary cause of conditions like arthritis and asthma, and play a role in heart health by reducing triglycerides (blood fats). They may also reduce risk for certain kinds of cancer.
Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies and sardines) are the most highly recommended sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and the American Heart Association suggests eating these types of fish at least twice a week. Omega-3s can also be found in walnuts, flax (or flaxseed oil), olive oil, fresh basil and dark green leafy vegetables.
Remember that a healthy diet doesn't work alone. Incorporate regular exercise and relaxation to encourage happy hormones and rest in your mind. Here's to sunny days!
Healthy Diet: Eating with Mental Health in Mind. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2015, from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/healthy-diet-eating-mental-health-mind