Improve Your Mood with Good Nutrition

Katie Pipinich, RD, CDE and Laura Del Guerra, RD, CDE, Take Control Health Coaches

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Can nutrition affect your mental health? According to a growing body of science, the answer appears to be yes. Several studies suggest that what we eat and drink directly affects the structure and function of our brains. The brain requires a constant source of energy and gets this through the foods we eat. The more nutrient-rich foods we consume, the better our mental health.  

The link between nutrition and mood

Serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite is produced primarily in the GI tract. Several recent studies have uncovered a link between serotonin and the “good” bacteria in your gut. This bacteria functions in many ways including limiting inflammation in the body, improving nutrient absorption, and activating pathways between the gut and brain.

Studies have shown that a nutrient-rich diet produces changes in brain proteins that improve connections between brain cells. On the other hand, diets high in saturated fat and refined sugars have been shown to have a potent negative impact on the brain.

The Mediterranean and DASH diets were found to significantly improve anxiety and depression. These diets eliminate sugar intake, and consist of whole foods like vegetables, fruits, seafood, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and legumes.

How to fuel your brain for the best overall mental health

  1. Eat consistently throughout the day. Our brains need glucose (carbohydrates) to function. It is important that we fuel our body and brain at regular intervals throughout the day to avoid low blood sugar.
  2. Try to include complex carbohydrates with all meals. Examples include whole wheat bread, quinoa, couscous, and rice. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for the brain, and complex carbohydrates are more nutrient-dense than simple carbohydrates.
  3. Stay hydrated! The brain is approximately 80% water. When we become dehydrated, our brains feel strained. Good hydration not only improves brain function, but also gives you increased energy, and helps joint and muscle function.
  4. Add omega 3 fatty acids into your weekly routine. Salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, and tuna are good sources of this essential fatty acid. If you do not like these foods, talk to your doctor about adding a supplement into your routine. Omega 3s may improve mood, and help improve memory and thinking.
  5. Choose lean meats, nuts and legumes. Many of these foods are rich in iron and zinc. Low levels of these nutrients are linked to depression.
  6. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you are consuming a variety of nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals like C and B12, which are also linked to brain health.
  7. Choose whole foods as often as possible. Limit processed foods, they have been shown to damage the good bacteria in the gut, and decrease serotonin production.
  8. Eat dark chocolate (in moderation). Dark chocolate contains flavonoids and antioxidants which are both important for brain function. Look for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa content for an occasional treat!

Still skeptical? Try the above recommendations for a few weeks. Cut out all processed foods and sugar. Notice how you feel. Is your mood better? Do you have more energy? Chances are, the answer will be yes.