Did you know that nutritious foods can also protect your mental health? While no nutrient or diet plan can cure depression, a good overall diet is essential to your mental well-being. Eating foods rich in essential vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, proteins and fatty acids is key to keeping your brain in good working order.
Your brain, like other organs, responds to what you eat and drink. It needs various vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to stay healthy. If you deprive your brain of these essential nutrients, it cannot function properly. This can increase your risk of mental health problems.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals play a key role in your brain health. Vitamins that are particularly important to your brain include:
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- B vitamins
To function properly, your brain also depends on minerals, such as:
Carbohydrates serve a number of purposes in feeding your brain. At its most basic level, your brain depends on glucose for energy. This simple sugar is derived from carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrates also help stimulate your brain to produce the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.
Instead of snacking on sweets and processed grains, opt for complex carbohydrates, such as those in:
- fruits and vegetableswhole-grain foods
- Your body converts these carbohydrates into glucose more slowly than simple carbohydrates, which are found in processed sugars and grains. As a result, complex carbohydrates provide a more stable and consistent flow of fuel to your brain.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They are essential for your brain’s production of neurotransmitters. These are a type of chemical messenger that carries signals between your nerve cells.
Serotonin, for example, is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction. It is made from the amino acid tryptophan. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps you get motivated. It is derived from the amino acid phenylalanine. Your body includes these amino acids from food in your diet.
Fatty acids are also essential for your brain health. Much of your brain is made up of fat, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Your body cannot make these essential fatty acids on its own. Instead, it absorbs them from foods you eat.
It is best to get an even balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. Unfortunately, the typical Western diet contains excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and insufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
A final important nutrient for your brain is water. It makes up most of your brain mass. Even mild dehydration can lead to psychological symptoms, such as irritability and loss of concentration.
Foods to eat
To help your brain function properly, eat a variety of foods that are rich in essential nutrients, including:
vitamin C: citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and other fruits and vegetables
vitamin D: salmon, cod, shrimp, eggs, and fortified milk, juice, and cereal products
B vitamins: red meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables
magnesium, selenium, and zinc: nuts, seeds, whole grains, green vegetables, and fish
complex carbohydrates: whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, quinoa, millet, legumes, and starchy vegetables, such potatoes, corn, peas, and winter squash
tryptophan: lean red meat, poultry, eggs, and beans
phenylalanine: lean red meat, chicken, eggs, dairy products, soybeans, and seeds
omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, trout, tuna, beans, walnuts, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cantaloupe, chia and hemp seeds, and canola and flax seed oil
omega-6 fatty acids:poultry, eggs, grains, and vegetable oils
Foods to avoid
Try to avoid or limit these foods and beverages:
caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee, and soft drinks
- alcoholic drinks
- sugary foods
- deep-fried foods
- refined and processed foods
Many refined and processed foods, sugary foods, and fried foods are high in calories and low in brain-healthy nutrients. Eating too much of it can increase your risk of physical and mental health problems.
About the takeaway
Eating healthy is important not only for your physical health, but also for your mental well-being. Including a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats, poultry and fish in your diet can help you stay healthy and energetic. In addition to exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet can do wonders for your mental well-being.