Nutritionists have long been advocating the link between mental health and diet, furthermore, there have been an ever-increasing amount of studies that underline its importance.
What is the link between food and mental health?
A study emerged this year from the University of Manchester compared data from over 46,000 people and found that improving diet had a positive effect on mental health.
“This is actually good news,” says Dr. Joseph Firth, an honorary research fellow at The University of Manchester.
“Eating more nutrient-dense meals, which are high in fiber and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars, appears to be sufficient for avoiding the potentially negative psychological effects of a ‘junk food’ diet,” he pointed.
What foods can help boost your mood?
Probiotics and prebiotics:
- Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes.
- Probiotics are different in that they contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria that directly add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut.
Probably the most common probiotic food is yogurt, other bacteria-fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi, are also good sources of probiotics.
Tryptophan: Foods rich in tryptophan help to bolster your serotonin levels (the happy hormone), so up your intake of salmon, spinach, seeds and chicken to lift a low mood.
Selenium: Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect against oxidative damage and supports your immune and nervous systems.
B vitamins: Since B vitamins are found in many foods, you are most likely not at risk of developing a deficiency as long as you follow a well-rounded diet.
There are eight B vitamins — collectively called B complex vitamins. They are thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12).
- Thiamin: peas, whole-grain and enriched grain products including bread, rice, pasta, tortillas, and fortified cereals.
- Riboflavin: Cheese, yogurt, enriched grains, lean meats, eggs, almonds, and leafy green vegetables.
- Niacin: High-protein foods such as peanut butter, beef, poultry, and fish, as well as enriched and fortified grain products
- Pantothenic Acid: Yogurt, sweet potato, milk, avocado, corn, eggs, and beans.
- Biotin: Eggs, peanuts, fish, sweet potato and almonds.
Vitamin D: Oily fish, fish liver oils and fortified foods contain the highest levels of vitamin D, although supplements are the easiest way to up your intake.
Fats: Fat is an essential part of our diet and is important for good health. There are different types of fats, with some fats being healthier than others.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.
Monounsaturated fat includes:
- Olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oils
- Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
- Peanut butter
Polyunsaturated fat – good sources include:
- Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines) and fish oil
- Soybean and safflower oil
Sugar: Good mood foods are nutrient-dense and stabilize blood sugar levels to optimize your mood. Among these mood-boosting foods include:
- Dark chocolate: Researchers show chocolate can increase pleasant feelings and reduce tension. Look for an organic raw dark chocolate with at least 85 percent cacao, five grams of sugar or less per serving, and enjoy in moderation.
- Wild-caught fish: The omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) optimize mood levels and lower inflammation and protein stabilizes blood sugar.
- Non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruit: These nutrient-dense foods include mood-stabilizing nutrients such as thiamine (vitamin B1), iron, and folate. Research shows raw fruits and vegetables can boost mood better than cooked or processed fruits and vegetables so include plenty of leafy greens and berries in your meals.
- Green tea: The amino acid L-theanine in this calming beverage can reduce anxiety and stabilize your mood. Look for organic decaffeinated green tea whenever possible.
Water: What scientists discovered that the greater the water consumption, the better the mood. In studies, dehydration has been associated with increased fatigue, anger, and confusion as well as mood problems and decreased vigor. You need to be well hydrated for your cells to work properly. Drinking water also helps maintain a healthy heart rate and blood pressure.