What you eat doesn’t just affect your physical health. It can also influence your mental health. “Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel,” wrote Eva Selhub MD for the Harvard Health Blog. “Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the ‘waste’ (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.”
“Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel,” such as processed or refined foods adds Selhub. “Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress.” Studies have also found that there’s “a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.
In fact, certain foods may be able to reduce mental health symptoms in illnesses like anxiety, stress, depression, and attention issues. So, what exactly are these foods? Well, here is a rundown of the best foods to eat for supporting your mental health.
Dopamine and serotonin-rich foods.
“In studies, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild cold water fish (e.g., salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel), seaweed, chicken fed on flaxseed and walnuts, have been shown to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental disorders,” writes Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H. for Psychology Today.
“This is likely because of the effect omega-3s have on the production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for our moods), including dopamine and serotonin. By supporting the synapses in the brain, omega-3s also boost learning and memory,” writes Dr. Ross.
In his book Memory Rescue, Dr. Daniel Amen writes that other dopamine-rich foods include chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, eggs, lentils, nuts and seeds (pumpkin and sesame), and high protein veggies like broccoli and spinach. These foods can also assist you with focus and motivation.
Foods containing serotonin, which aid in mood, sleep, pain, and craving control, are healthy carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and quinoa, that have been combined with tryptophan-containing foods, such as eggs, turkey, seafood, chickpeas, nuts and seeds.
GABA, magnesium, and iron-rich food.
“Gamma-Aminobutyric acid is an amino acid produced naturally in the brain,” writes Michael J Breus Ph.D. “GABA functions as a neurotransmitter, facilitating communication among brain cells.” It’s most important role in the body, however, “is to reduce the activity of neurons in the brain and central nervous system, which in turn has a broad range of effects on the body and mind, including increased relaxation, reduced stress, a more calm, balanced mood, alleviation of pain, and a boost to sleep.”
While can not get GABA naturally from foods, fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, bananas, and oranges, do contain substances like flavonoids that can influence how GABA works in the brain.
Foods that are rich in magnesium can also reduce anxiety. These include leafy greens, nuts and seeds, whole grains, legumes, tofu, and avocados
Another mineral, iron may also help produce brain chemicals that regulate mood. Iron-rich foods include liver, shellfish, spinach, red meat, legumes, turkey, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and broccoli.
Vitamin B6, B12, folate-rich foods.
Food containing B vitamins are believed to fight back against depressive states and irritability. B vitamins can be found in foods like milk, cheese, poultry, red meat, and liver.
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is high in foods like legumes, eggs, asparagus, leafy greens, beets, brussel sprouts, broccoli, papaya, bananas, avocados, and citrus fruits.
“Fermented foods, such as yogurt with active cultures, kefir, kimchi, tempeh and certain pickled vegetables, contain probiotics (healthy bacteria) which have been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and stress hormones and effect the neurotransmitter GABA,” adds Dr. Roos. “By contrast, eating too many processed foods may compromise the delicate balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut.”
Of course, speak with your doctor and/or mental health care provider before changing your diet,