12 essential nutrients to improve mental health


We are used to seeing food as energy and fuel, but food is more than that. The food we eat is pure information; a combination of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and compounds that improve our health and prevent disease or work against our health and create inflammation which promotes disease.

Food is the key to improving and optimizing mental and physical health. As a nutritionist psychiatrist, I see the extent to which my patients benefit from dietetic and nutritional advice; research is now showing how closely the health of our gut microbiome is linked to our mental health. Plus, how several foods trigger mental health issues like anxiety and ADHD, while many other foods improve and help fight conditions like depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and even fatigue. Eating a healthy diet can not only benefit your blood sugar and insulin levels, but can also reduce your symptoms of insomnia and burnout. In short, what’s good for the body is good for the brain.

The field of nutritional psychiatry is nascent but growing. Focusing on nutrition to optimize brain health and, in doing so, prevent and treat mental health problems is key. With dietary interventions sometimes achieving excellent results where drug trials and therapy are not always as effective as previously thought and research showing a positive response to treatment of around 50%.

The nutrients in food influence chemicals that directly and indirectly affect your brain and in turn change the way you think and feel. Here are the 12 KEY NUTRIENTS to include in your diet to improve your mental and physical health: Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is used for cell development throughout your body. Deficiency can interfere with DNA synthesis and repair and overall cell function in the brain, leading to chronic fatigue, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Several studies have shown that this vitamin B supplement is effective in reducing symptoms in these conditions.

Find folate in: leafy greens (Swiss chard, kale, spinach), legumes (cooked lentils and chickpeas), asparagus, green peas, organ meats, and Brussels sprouts.

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the essential fatty acids that you need to get from your diet because your body does not produce them, and they are crucial for good cardiovascular protection and brain health. Lack of omega-3s in your diet adversely affects cognitive function. Scientific studies show that patients with dementia have low levels of omega-3s and that supplementation can help protect healthy brains and delay cognitive decline in mild cases. Low levels of omega-3s have also been linked to chronic inflammation, potentially contributing to symptoms of depression.

Find them in: chia and flax seeds, sardines with seaweed, wild salmon, mackerel, cod liver oil, herring, oysters, caviar, walnuts, soybeans, avocados and extra virgin olive oil.

Vitamin D, is a fat soluble vitamin known for its role in calcium absorption, bone growth, mineralization and remodeling. In the brain, vitamin D acts as a neurosteroid and plays a protective role against depression and anxiety disorders. Studies have shown that vitamin D decreases inflammation and toxic destruction of cells and controls the release of nerve growth factor, which is essential for the function of hippocampal and cortical neurons. Vitamin D deficiency plays a crucial role in regulating stress responses.

Find it in: About 80% of our vitamin D comes from direct sun exposure. Food sources of vitamin D are cod liver oil, egg yolks, herring, mushrooms, oysters, salmon, sardines, shrimp, fortified nut milks and canned tuna.

The iron is a mineral and a vital component of hemoglobin, a protein that transfers oxygen from your lungs to all tissues in your body. The most common iron deficiency is anemia and symptoms of fatigue. Clinical studies link iron deficiency with mood disorders and ADHD. This is because iron helps protect neurons and controls the synthesis of chemicals involved in mood.

Find it in: cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, and bok choy; dark chocolate, red meat, turkey, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans), pumpkin seeds, shellfish (clams, oysters and mussels) and fish.

Magnesium is a mineral in the body that regulates at least 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function. This mineral helps regulate many key neurotransmitters involved in regulating mood. Magnesium deficiency is associated with anxiety, ADHD, fatigue, and low libido. It has also been shown to improve the quality of sleep.

Find it in: avocados, almonds, spinach, cashews, pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, black beans, and edamame.

Potassium is an essential mineral found in all tissues of the body and necessary for normal cell function due to its role in maintaining healthy nerve function and regulating water balance. Clinical studies suggest that low potassium in the blood disrupts signals that help maintain optimal brain function, resulting in anxiety, mental fatigue, and ADHD.

Find it in: Bananas, Cucumbers, Mushrooms, Oranges, Pears, Sweet Potatoes, and Maca.

Selenium is a potent mineral that plays an essential role in reproduction, metabolism of thyroid hormones, DNA synthesis, and protection against oxidative stress and infections. Acts as a powerful antioxidant for the brain. Several studies indicate that low levels lead to depression and that supplementation can improve mood and anxiety. Several studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have lower blood selenium levels.

Find it in: Brazil Nuts, Halibut, Sardines, Shrimp, Steak, Beet Liver, Chicken and Cottage Cheese.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), is one of the water soluble B vitamins. This vitamin plays a vital role in allowing your body to use carbohydrates for energy. It is essential for the growth, development and function of cells. Vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to mental problems, including confusion, short-term memory loss, sleep problems, and anxiety. B vitamins are sometimes referred to as anti-stress vitamins, possibly because they decrease oxidative stress in the brain.

Find it in: acorn squash, asparagus, barley, beef, black beans, cauliflower, eggs, sunflower seeds, spinach, peas, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes.

Vitamin A refers to a group of retinoids and their most popular role is our view. Other roles of vitamin A are in immune functions, reproduction and cellular communications. Vitamin A has been shown to facilitate healthy brain function, such as the growth and adaptation of neurons (neuroplasticity). Vitamin A deficiency can cause specific areas of the brain to shrink, disrupting the way the brain responds to stress and leading to mood and anxiety disorders.

Find it in: liver (beef, cod liver oil, lamb), red tuna, mackerel, salmon, trout, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, black-eyed peas, blue cheese, feta and goat cheese, caviar and hard dough- boiled eggs.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin), is a water-soluble vitamin necessary for the proper formation of red blood cells, neurological function and DNA synthesis. Central to the production of mood regulators (dopamine and serotonin), its deficiency has been linked to bad mood, OCD, poor sleep and schizophrenia. The actions of vitamin B12 are related to folate.

Find it in: beef, clams, milk, yogurt, Swiss cheese, nutritional yeast, organ meats, salmon, sardines, trout, tempeh and nori.

Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is essential for the proper functioning of the brain, as it is used for the biosynthesis of certain neurotransmitters, and is an essential antioxidant in the brain. Vitamin C deficiency has been linked to fatigue, mood, anxiety, concentration, memory, sleep, schizophrenia, and ADHD disorders.

Find it in: cherries, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chili peppers, kale, kiwi, lemons, oranges, papaya, parsley, persimmon, strawberries, sweet yellow peppers, thyme.

Zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in many aspects of cell metabolism. It is required for the activity of over 300 enzymes that help with metabolism, digestion, nerve function and more. Several studies suggest an association between low zinc levels and the risk of depression. In children, zinc deficiency is associated with ADHD.

Find it in: seafood, beans, meat, nuts, poultry, fish, whole grains, eggs, and grass milk-based dairy products.

So add these nutrients to your diet to boost your brain health and improve your mood!

This article is from Chef Uma MD.


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