Mental health is impacted by a number of factors, including environmental influences, genetics, and diet. 1 Consuming foods rich in the following nutrients contributes to mental wellness and may help those experiencing mild depressive symptoms. If you are experiencing more severe symptoms such as thoughts of harming yourself or others, please seek medical attention immediately.
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut contain probiotics, contribute to a healthy microbiome and, in turn may increase serotonin production in the body. 2 Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that boosts mood and positively impacts the stress response. 3 Although the microbiome is most well known in relation to gut health, it is also extremely important in mental wellness because up to 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced by the microbiome. 4 5 Keep in mind that not every fermented food is a good source of probiotics–things like beer and bread will not increase your probiotic intake because these use cooking and filtering in the production process, which decreases their probiotic content. Additionally, you can overdo probiotic consumption and throw your body off balance as well.
Consuming fiber slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, gradually releasing sugars into the bloodstream. This helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which may combat irritability and sudden mood swings.6 7 Healthy, fiber-rich foods include oats, lentils, spinach, kale, and avocado.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that promote brain development and cell signalling. 8 There are two particular omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), that are associated with mood regulation and a lower level of depression. 9 These depression-fighting omega-3s are found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
Flavonoids are compounds naturally found in many plants. Consuming flavonoid-rich foods can reduce inflammation, promote increased blood flow to the brain, regulate mood, and increase overall brain health. 10 11. One study found that the consumption of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid found in purple and blue colored plants, can lower the risk of depression by 39%. 12 High-flavonoid foods include berries, dark chocolate, red cabbage, soy beans, and kale.
If you are interested in using nutrition to improve overall health, a career in naturopathic medicine may be the right fit for you.