One commonly overlooked aspect of recovery is nutrition. Nutrition plays a vital role in physical and mental health, and is something that can be adjusted at any time throughout life. While a change in diet does not necessarily guarantee a change in overall health, it can help boost mood and improve physical health, creating a positive effect on daily life.
When coping with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, thinking about managing your diet can feel overwhelming. Rather than completely overhauling your diet, making small changes can help decrease symptoms and make them easier to manage. Over time, these changes become second-nature and additional changes can be incorporated to facilitate continued growth.
Foods that Help Improve Mental Health
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to food. With a vast array of foods and beverages to choose from, there are many options that can be explored and tried. Your diet does not need to consist solely on these mood-boosting foods and drinks in order to experience the benefits, but becoming more aware of how your diet impacts mood can help you make better dietary choices.
Some mood-boosting options include:
- Fish: Fish, especially more oily types such as salmon, trout, and sardines, can be helpful in coping with depression. These types of fish contain large amounts of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats can help increase levels of serotonin and improve mood because it helps develop connections in the brain. Studies have explored the relationship between omega-3 fats and depression and many findings prove that those who consume large amounts of fish tend to be less likely to experience symptoms of depression.
- Nuts: Like fish, many nuts contain high amounts of omega-3 fats. Nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, and Brazilian nuts can be an excellent alternative to fish. In addition to omega-3 fats, nuts are also an excellent source of protein and can help keep blood sugar at healthy levels.
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey are lean sources of protein that can help improve mental and physical health. In addition to helping stabilize levels of blood sugar, these meats are known for containing high amounts of tryptophan. Tryptophan helps create serotonin, which is vital in balancing mood and facilitating healthy sleep.
- Vegetables: While vegetables are an important component of any balanced diet, they are especially beneficial to those who struggle with depression. Studies show that nutrients such as folate and fiber can help improve and stabilize mood. While all vegetables can provide this benefit, dark, leafy vegetables are especially beneficial because they contain other nutrients, including ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a type of omega-3 fat. Brussels sprouts, spinach, and kale are highly recommended because of their higher concentrations of omega-3 fat.
- Probiotics: Microorganisms, such as probiotics, are found in your digestive system and play a key role in your mental health. Studies have linked probiotics to affecting stress responses and inflammation in the body. Foods that contain probiotics, including yogurt, tofu, and miso, can help improve digestive health.
- Green tea: Some experts have linked green tea to reduced levels of stress and increased feelings of calmness, making it helpful in managing anxiety. Green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that can increase the production of serotonin and dopamine in the body. Green tea can also be a suitable replacement for soda and coffee, allowing a person to reduce the amount of sugar they ingest.
- Pumpkin seeds: Foods like pumpkin seeds contain high levels of potassium, which can help manage blood pressure and reduce symptoms of stress or anxiety. They also contain a substantial amount of zinc, a nutrient that is linked to brain and nerve development. Zinc appears to be linked to regions of the brain involved with emotions and a zinc deficiency may negatively impact mood.
- Dark chocolate: Studies have found that dark chocolate and cocoa can improve mood by reducing levels of stress and anxiety. Chocolate has a significant amount of tryptophan and magnesium in it which can help reduce symptoms of depression by increasing production of serotonin. Dark chocolate that is 70% or more tends to be the best, but it still contains sugar and should be consumed in moderation.
- Chamomile: Chamomile tea may be helpful in managing symptoms of anxiety. It is commonly used as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments because it has antioxidant, antibacterial properties. It is also known to have a relaxing effect when consumed and like green tea, can be an excellent substitute for unhealthy beverages.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a spice commonly used in cooking meals, particularly those of Indian or South-East Asian origin. Turmeric contains curcumin, an ingredient that can reduce inflammation, stress, and anxiety. Because it has minimal flavor, the spice can be added to any number of meals.
In general, the less processed food and beverages are, the better they tend to be for your body. While processed foods can be more convenient, they can also be filled with preservatives and other ingredients that do not benefit the body or mind. When people struggle with stress or a difficult day, it is not uncommon to find that many people turn to junk food, sugary treats, and other unhealthy options that may make them feel better temporarily, but ultimately contribute to poor health.
A healthy diet contributes to good physical and mental health. In conjunction with increased physical activity, many who struggle with mental health disorders tend to see improvements in their emotional wellbeing. While changing dietary habits alone will not cure depression or anxiety, it can help alleviate symptoms and improve a person’s overall wellbeing.