Foods for Mental Health Support and Wellness
Most likely, you’re aware of the benefits a healthy diet for your physical health. But did you know that nutrition plays a role in your mental and emotional well-being as well? This article explores 5 foods that can support your mental health and wellness – and a few foods not to eat.
The connection between nutrition and mental health
The field of nutritional psychiatry recognizes that the brain needs fuel to function, and it runs best on high quality sources of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants. A well nourished brain has better cognitive functioning, can respond better to stress, is less susceptible to anxiety and depression, and can sustain better moods.
Also, you may have heard the buzz about “gut health” lately. There’s a connection between our gut (or intestines) and the brain. Bacteria in the gut produce neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate mood. Gut inflammation caused by poor nutrition disrupts the balance of gut bacteria and can lead to increased anxiety and depression.
Simply put: the foods you eat affect the way you think and how you feel.
What to eat: 5 foods for mental health support
1: Green Leafy Vegetables
In terms of your brain health, fresh vegetables top the list, and the best options are dark green leafy veggies. Eating leafy greens supports memory and reasoning functions and can slow rates of cognitive decline. Green leafy veggies include the following:
- Kale – one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet!
- Collard greens
- Bok choy
- Swiss chard
Here are some recipes with green leafy vegetables:
- Swiss Chard and Tofu Stir Fry
- Sweet Potato, Spinach, and Smoked Gouda Frittata
- Chocolate Grapefruit Protein Shake (contains spinach)
Studies show that the flavonoids in berries help slow rates of cognitive decline. The brain also benefits from their anti-oxidants. Enjoy at least two servings of berries a week – or more, because they’re delicious! Add them to smoothies, or drizzle them with a light topping of agave or honey.
(Source: Mayo Clinic )
3: Healthy Fats
Healthy fats support your brain function. Nuts in particular have vitamin E, which has brain protective properties. Here are some examples of healthy fats:
- Raw or dry-roasted nuts
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
Try these tips to add some healthy fats to your diet:
- Use a small amount of olive oil or coconut oil as cooking oil during meal prep.
- Instead of using dairy-based or mayo-based salad dressings, drizzle your greens with olive oil and lemon juice, or try this Spring Onion & Avocado Salad Dressing.
- Unsalted mixed nuts make an excellent afternoon snack. Be sure to check portion sizes, and pair them with some raw veggies like baby carrots or sliced zucchini.
4: Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Not only are people who regularly consume omega-3s less likely to become depressed, but those who suffer from depression or anxiety and start taking omega-3 supplements are likely to feel their symptoms improve. Omega-3s are also critical to brain growth and development in infants, can improve mental disorders, and fight age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Salmon is famously rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and eating it once or twice a week will help you get your recommended dose. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for a Salmon Weeknight Dinner.
If you don’t eat fish, other sources include flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. You can also consider taking vegetarian omega-3 supplements.
5: Beans and Lentils
Legumes such as beans and lentils are rich in B vitamins, which are critical for brain health. The B vitamins are valuable to your brain and nervous system as they help make the neurotransmitters that pass signals between nerves. To maintain your levels of B vitamins, consider having one small serving of legumes daily.
Here are some dinner recipes featuring beans:
What not to eat: which foods are bad for mental health?
It’s no surprise that if healthy foods helps your brain, food with poor nutritional content will do little to nourish your brain, and therefore can negatively impact your mood and thinking processes. This has been proven in multiple studies. (Sources: Harvard Health, Healthline.)
If you want to improve your emotional and cognitive wellbeing through your diet, here are some foods to skip:
- Processed foods
- Refined sugar, including sweets and sugary drinks
- Refined carbs
Planning a healthy diet to support mental and emotional wellness
If you’re interested in meal planning to support your mental health and emotional wellness, here are some resources to help you:
- 5-Day Detox Meal Plan: This gentle detox program will help rid your body of cravings and jumpstart your journey to better nutrition. This includes recipes and an editable grocery shopping list.
- 7 Health Reasons to Drink More Water: Staying hydrated is essential for your mood, concentration, and memory. This article includes tips on how much water to drink and how to reach your daily intake goal.
- 5 Day Meal Planning Mini Course: Meal planning is an essential tool to staying on track with healthy eating goals. In this free email mini course, you’ll identify meal planning goals, learn tips for prepping healthy meals, and more.
I’d love to hear about your nutrition and wellness goals!