As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are also experiencing another health challenge: an assault on our mental health. Anxiety is high, and many people are cooped up at home and knocked off their normal routines. Plus, many of us face a loss of control, financial stress, increased social isolation, or even the specter of too much time with family members or roommates, who may be easier to get along with when we have more breathing room.
With so much out of your control, what can you do to boost your mood, so you can hang in there and emerge on the other side of this intact — and maybe even healthier than before? What can you do right now that can make a positive long-term difference?
One of the top strategies for boosting mental health is also one of the most often ignored: choosing foods that boost your mood. It turns out that nutrition and mental health are more closely connected than you might expect. A large number of epidemiological studies have suggested a relationship between diet and mental illness. Plus, a growing body of research shows an association between poor nutrition and common mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety — identified and reported in adults. Mood, learning, and memory abilities also have a link with diet, both during early development and throughout adulthood. Nutritional Psychiatry
In nutritional psychiatry, a relatively new medical sub-specialty, there’s a focus on dietary interventions and recommendations to prevent and treat common mental disorders.
Nutritional psychiatry emphasizes the link between nutrition and mental health. It’s typically used alongside behavioral and lifestyle interventions, talk therapy, and sometimes also medications, to make the most positive, sustainable impact. How Nutrition Impacts Your Brain
iStock.com/Lars Neumann Your brain requires a constant supply of fuel to function optimally — actually, to function at all. That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in the food makes all the difference. What you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood. When it comes to addressing mental health, it’s important to examine “your brain on food.” It turns out that the adage “you are what you eat” extends to your mental and emotional experience — not just your physical body.
There is a demonstrated link between nutrition and mental health. Patients suffering from mental disorders often exhibit a severe deficiency of important vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Some of the most well-researched nutrients that are important for addressing mental health issues include the following: B Vitamins
B vitamins, such as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin B9 (folate), are especially important when it comes to anxiety and depression. These vitamins help produce and control brain chemicals and influence mood and other mental functions. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a critical role in optimal brain development and is a key ingredient in the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with motivation, reward-seeking, and pleasure. Low levels of vitamin D have an association with a number of psychiatric conditions. And some research suggests that reversing vitamin D deficiency may help reduce symptoms of depression . Iron
Iron is necessary for the nerves and brain. A severe iron deficiency in young children can cause irreversible cognitive damage that can lead to lower IQ and delays in development. Iron deficiency can cause and exacerbate many kinds of psychiatric symptoms. Sometimes iron deficiency will present as anxiety, depression, irritability, and even poor concentration and general restlessness. Iron deficiency has a much higher prevalence among children with ADHD , and the symptoms can improve with iron supplementation or consumption of iron-rich foods. Too much iron — especially heme iron from animal foods — can also be a problem. More on that here . Chromium
There’s a well-established link between chromium deficiency and depression. This is largely because chromium can regulate unbalanced, key neurotransmitters in mental health disorders. Supplementation can have positive effects on depressive symptoms. Lithium
Lithium is a natural trace element that has a well-known role in psychiatry, especially in the treatment of bipolar disorder, as well as depression, schizoaffective disorder, aggression, impulse control disorder, attention deficit disorders, eating disorders, and even certain subsets of alcoholism. Selenium
Low intake of selenium is associated with depression. Interventional studies have shown that adequate selenium may improve mood and diminish anxiety, though some of the research is mixed . Zinc
Low zinc levels often occur among individuals with depression . Additionally, intervention research has shown that zinc taken by mouth can improve the effectiveness of antidepressant therapy. Getting enough zinc , through diet or supplementation, is also critical for immune health. Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Deficiencies in neurotransmitters , such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), are often associated with depression. Researchers have found that supplementation with the appropriate amounts of the amino acids 5-hydroxytryptophan and l-tyrosine may be a safe and effective treatment for depression. Nutrition and Mental Health: Top Foods to Enjoy
iStock.com/Lisovskaya While supplementation can help, it’s generally preferable to get the nutrients you need from the food you eat every day. Making healthy food the foundation of your diet is a crucial mental health strategy, whether or not there’s a global health crisis. Below are some of the best foods you can incorporate into your diet for general brain health and cognition. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are full of B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals like selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, and magnesium that are good for boosting mood, energy production, calming anxiety, and protecting your brain from oxidative damage. Try adding walnuts or ground flaxseed to your oatmeal, sprinkling pumpkin and sunflower seeds onto a salad, mixing chia seeds into smoothies, or spreading some whole grain toast with cashew butter. Whole Grains
Whole grains can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, respiratory illness, and infectious disease. And there’s also evidence that they can be good for your […]