Mental health is a growing topic of conversation, as mental health challenges affect millions of individuals. When it comes to mental health and nutrition, this topic is often approached in terms of what to avoid, such as alcohol and caffeine, rather than foods that promote mental health. We can support our mental well-being by eating cleanly and getting plenty of beneficial nutrients.
Serotonin is our feel-good neurotransmitter. When we consume foods rich in tryptophan, it converts to 5 hydroxy-tryptophan which then stimulates serotonin. As evening approaches, serotonin stimulates melatonin and improves sleep. And, as we know, getting a good night’s sleep is vital for supporting positive mental health. Foods that contain tryptophan are poultry, seafood, and meat. Vegetarians can look to foods such as garbanzo beans, soy, nuts, and seeds. And good news for those with a sweet tooth! Dark chocolate also increases serotonin.
Omega-3-rich foods support nerve cell membranes and serotonin. Every cell in our body is surrounded by fatty acids EPA and DHA. Without them, hormones cannot send their messages into our cells, which can affect our health. The foods highest in omega-3s are salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Here’s a good strategy: add walnuts and ground flaxseeds to yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies for a winning combination.
Zinc deficiency in both children and adults can affect mental health. While oysters are very high in zinc (555% of our daily requirement in just 3.5 oz), they’re not always to everyone’s liking. Other good food sources for zinc include beef, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, garbanzo beans, and lentils. Make hummus and baby carrots for an easy and convenient snack.
Magnesium-rich foods can also be beneficial for supporting mental health. Foods with the highest amount of magnesium include kidney, pinto, black, lima, and navy beans. Sesame seeds and cashews are also good sources.
GABA is a neurotransmitter amino acid in the brain. When GABA is taken in food or supplement form, it binds to the GABA cell receptor in the brain and has a calming effect. GABA is found in broccoli, spinach, oranges, bananas, almonds, lentils, and brown rice.
Here’s a sample day meal plan packed with mental health supportive nutrients (snacks are optional):
Oatmeal topped with sliced banana and ground flaxseeds
- Morning snack
Spinach salad with garbanzo beans, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and dressed with Olive Your Heart omega-3 olive oil in lemon flavor; Side cup of lentil bean soup
- Afternoon Snack
Hummus with carrot or celery sticks
Baked salmon filet (or Tofu for vegetarians) with a side of brown rice and steamed broccoli
- Evening Snack
Handful of cashews with a piece of dark chocolate