According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression and other mental health conditions are increasing globally and, with COVID-19 having been the primary focus of our lives for almost a year, reports of depression and anxiety disorders are increasing dramatically during the UK’s various ‘lockdowns’. However, you can turn the tide on the blues with a few simple dietary switches. Simply put, what you put on your plate can have a direct impact on our mental health, for better and for worse. Here, Third Space nutritionist Stephanie Goold walks you through several ways to rejuvenate your meals, create positive mental change and leave you feeling sunny side up.
Nutrition to support mental health:
- B12 – essential for producing “happy hormones” such as serotonin and dopamine.
Deficiency associated with depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, psychosis, phobias and dementia.
Food sources: Fortified cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, yeast extract (Marmite), fish, meat, dairy, eggs.
Vegans should consider seeking professional advice re supplementation.
- Magnesium – essential for calming the nervous system, hormone and brain cell activity.
Deficiency associated with anxiety, confusion, insomnia, headaches and hallucinations.
Food sources: kale, spinach, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, beans and lentils.
- B9 (Folate) – essential for a healthy nervous system.
Deficiency associated with depression, dementia and disorders such as schizophrenia.
Food sources: all green vegetables, beans and lentils, fortified cereals, peanuts, sunflower seeds.
- Omega-3 – essential for brain function, hormone production and decreasing inflammation.
Deficiency associated with depression, schizophrenia, dementia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism and bipolar disorder.
Food sources: oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, sardines, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts.
- Probiotics and prebiotics – balanced gut bacteria are essential not only for healthy digestion, but whole-body wellbeing. The gut and the brain are physically linked via the gut-brain-axis.
Food sources: Kombucha drinks, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, miso, natto, chicory/endive, artichokes, garlic, leeks, asparagus, cabbages and ground flaxseed.
- Water – around 80% of the brain is made up of water.
Even minimal dehydration can have adverse effects on brain function. Aim to drink 2 litres of filtered water a day.
Other Lifestyle Factors
- Alcohol, medications and recreational drugs can all adversely affect mental health as well as deplete the body of vital nutrients.
- Quality sleep is crucial for brain detoxification (washes away harmful waste via the glymphatic system), brain cell renewal and recovery from mental exertion.
- Exercise is well documented for relieving stress, boosting mood and improving sleep.
If you are suffering from mental health issues and feel unable to cope, please contact your GP to discuss available treatment and support.