You often hear about people eating to improve their blood pressure, heart and digestion. Less discussed are foods that are essential for good brain health, and mental wellbeing. Yet a recent landmark medical study by Lancet, showed that food could be as integral to mental health, as it is in other areas of the body.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee, who works on the BBC’s Doctor in the House TV show, said that food is an “often unutilised tool” in combating mental health issues. “You have the ability to improve the way you feel by controlling what you put on your plate,” he said.
Here’s a list of key nutrients that help your cognitive function and mental health:
The right fats
Good fats are essential for a healthy brain. Omega 3 fatty acids (including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA)) are key for communication between different parts of the brain, and play an essential role in the creation of feel good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine. Studies show that Omega 3 may protect against anxiety, depression and other mental disorders.
Foods containing tryptophan are key. Tryptophan is converted into to the feel-good hormone serotonin. To get the maximum benefit, tryptophan containing proteins are best eaten with complex carbohydrates, which help carry tryptophan into the blood stream. Although many sources of tryptophan are contained in meat and fish, it’s still possible to get a dose from non-animal sources, such as soya, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds and walnuts.
Food sources include: Seeds (good sources include, Pumpkin seeds, Squash seeds and chia seeds). Cheese (highest amount is found in Parmesan, cheddar and mozzarella). Soy.Meat (the highest amount is found in Lamb, beef, goat and some other popular meats). Chicken and turkey. Fish (the highest amount is found in tuna, halibut and salmon). Shellfish (the highest amount is found in crab, spiny lobster, octopus and clams). Whole oats.
Having insufficient vitamin B has been linked to a range of different mental health problems. It’s important to have a good amount of B6 (niacin), b9 (folate) and B12.
Food sources include:
Although you only need a small amount of selenium in your diet, it plays a integral role in the body. Some studies have suggested that deficiency in selenium can lead to depression.
Feed your gut
Good gut health is directly linked to positive mental health. Studies have shown that good gut health results in lower levels of stress and anxiety in the body. Gut health has also been proven to impact the neurotransmitter GABA which has a big impact on anxiety. Equally, processed foods and simple carbohydrates including sugar can cause an imbalance in the gut. Live cultures (such as yogurt) and fermented food positively impact the gut.
Unless you are in ketosis, your brain uses carbohydrates as fuel. But simple carbohydrates can play havoc with your sugar levels, impacting your mental state. The best types of carbohydrates to include in your diet are ones with slow release energy.