Healthy Living

Good Nutrition And Mental Health: What You Need To Know

Diet plays a huge role in brain health. What we eat and feed ourselves determines our mental health to a large extent."When we eat real food that nourishes us, it becomes the protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters that transfer information and signals between various parts of the brain and body," Roxanne Sukol, MD, preventive medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute, told WebMD.

First, it is important to understand the mechanisms of the gut-brain axis. The central nervous system and enteric nervous system are interconnected through many neural pathways to the intestine. That influences the cognitive and emotional centers of the brain, primarily through what we eat. 

As the gut is lined with millions of nerve cells that aid digestion, it is no wonder that emotions are affected by gut health. The gut is where 95 percent of the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced, which dictates moods and regulates sleep and hunger. To keep the gut in good shape, avoid foods that cause diarrhea, acidity, constipation and bloating. 

Good bacteria protects the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, prevents inflammation and improves absorption of food. Eat probiotic foods such as kefir, yogurt and kombucha. Adding fiber rich foods also increases ‘good bacteria’ tremendously. 

Apart from probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids are good for the brain, as studies have showed that they provide an anti-inflammatory effect. A randomized controlled trial led by Mary A. Fristad, PhD, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center examined the impact of omega-3 fatty acids. Over a period of 12 weeks, 72 depressed participants aged between 7 and 14-year olds were assigned four groups.

One group was given just omega-3 fatty acids, while the other was given omega-3 fatty acids along with therapy. Another group took psychotherapy and a placebo, while the last group just recieved a placebo. 

"What we demonstrated was that children with what appears to be endogenous, versus situational, depression required an active treatment. Psychotherapy worked; omega-3 worked; their combination worked the best," Fristaad said.

What to Eat

The more healthier food we eat, the more neuron communication happens in our brain. This field of study is called nutritional psychiatry. The Western diet consists of abundant sugars and processed food, which is unhealthy and bad for brain-health. In comparison, the Mediterranean diet lowers risk of depression by 25 to 35 percent. The diet includes vegetables, fruits, seafood and lean meat. 

B vitamins aid the production of key neurotransmitters and chemicals. Thiamine, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are the B vitamins needed. You can get the vitamins through meat, poultry, eggs, legumes and whole grains. 

Vitamin D found in fatty fish, milk, supplements and fortified food help with the production of dopamine and noradrenaline. Eat food rich in iron, magnesium and zinc, as these deficiencies are linked to depression and anxiety as well. 

assorted fruits Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging new field. Photo by Vitalii Pavlyshynets

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