Diet and mental health

‘What’s (served) up doc?!’ This is a question I'm predicting will be asked more and more as the link between diet and mental health becomes better understood. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental health illness in their lifetime; depression and anxiety being the most common types. Whilst there's no specific diet that can cure depression or anxiety, following some general principles may help ease symptoms. Read on to find out more.

 

Antioxidants

 

Antioxidants are important for preventing damage to cells, including those in the brain. The most common antioxidants in our diet are Vitamin C (found in berries, green leafy veg and citrus fruit) and Vitamin E (found in nuts, seeds and avocado). 

 

Vitamins and minerals

 

Selenium is another important antioxidant! For example, studies have reported a link between low selenium and poor mental health. It's recommended adults consume 55 micrograms a day; eat two brazil nuts to get your daily dose. 

 

B vitamins, are also key in the battle against depression and anxiety. For example, in one large-scale study, those who were deficient in vitamin B9 or B12 tended to have higher rates of depression. Top up on B vitamins by eating legumes, nuts, fruits, dark green vegetables, and lean/low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy.

 

Complex carbs and protein

 

Complex carbohydrates are important for helping our bodies produce the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Therefore, swapping simple, processed forms of carbs for wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, may help in the management of depression and anxiety. Similarly, foods such as turkey, tuna, and chicken contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which may aid serotonin production.

 

Fats

 

So; we have antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, carbs and protein covered; how about fat? Recently, scientists have discovered a link between low intakes of essential omega-3 fatty acids and mental health issues. Therefore, getting enough of these omega-3s in the form of oily fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines and fresh tuna) is vital. Whilst the government recommends we consume at least two portions of oily fish each week, the majority of us fall short of this target. 

 

Healthy weight

 

From a general perspective, it's also important to maintain a healthy weight. This is because people who are obese are more likely to become depressed and/or suffer from anxiety, and vice versa. Researchers believe this may be due to changes in hormones. Fortunately, a nutritious diet including the above foods will help you get to and stay at a healthy weight. If you're still experiencing difficulties, it's important to discuss this with your doctor and consult a registered nutritionist for tailored advice and guidance.