Did you know food and nutrition play a huge role in our mental health? With World Mental Health Day in October just past and particularly given the ordeal we all have been through over the past two years (thanks COVID), we thought we’d start the month with some nutrition tips to help improve our mental health management!
There are so many ways nutrition can play a role in mental health, so let’s take a dive into which nutrients play a specific role in mental health and how you can incorporate these foods to improve your wellbeing.
Numerous studies show that a higher omega-3 intake is positively associated with improvements to mood disorders. Omega-3 plays a role in regulating the new growth of brain cells that are responsible for cognition and emotions.
There are a number of different types of omega-3 chains, however focusing on the longer chain (marine based) omega-3’s, there are three different types: EPA, DPA, DHA. While the exact amounts we need to have a positive effect on disorders like depression is unknow, we do know that EPA and DHA has the biggest impact.
Currently the Australian guidelines suggest aiming for 400-600mg of long chain omega-3’s per day for general health, while some research suggests bumping this up to 2000mg per day for mental health benefits. In food talk, this looks like:
- 2-3 servings of oily fish per week (e.g. salmon with skin on, canned fish in olive oil blend, rainbow trout, mussels and mackerel)
- Omega-3 enriched eggs
- Fish oil supplements
Zinc is an essential trace mineral we need in our diets as it plays an important role in our immune health and wound healing, however increasing research indicates it also plays a role in managing depression. A number of studies show people who suffer with depression also have low serum (blood) zinc levels. There isn’t enough research to say exactly how much zinc is needed to combat depression, however current guidelines suggest aiming for 8-11mg per day for general health and not to go over the upper limit of 40mg per day. With this said, some studies have found aiming for 25mg in combination with prescription medication can help improve symptoms of depression. Food sources of zinc include:
- Lean meats (beef, pork and chicken)
- Legumes (baked bens, black beans, chickpeas)
- Nuts and seeds (cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds)
- Low fat dairy (milk, yoghurt and cheese)
- Fortified breakfast cereals (e.g. Kellog’s Special K and Uncle Toby’s Iron plus)
Folate (or folic acid) is a part of the B-group vitamin complex and is essential for red blood cell development and health cell growth and function. Similar to zinc, there are many studies that show serum (blood) folate levels are low in people with depression and more and more research is coming out suggesting that supplementation in combination with prescription medication can help reduce symptoms of depression. A good starting point is aiming for at least 400mcg as per the Australian guidelines, but try not to go over 1000mcg. If you’re trying to increase your folate intake, aim to have more:
- Dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, cabbage, kale, spring onions)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and brussel sprouts)
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans)
- Orange colored fruits (oranges and mangoes)
- Fortified cereals (e.g. Kellog’s Special K and Sanitarium Weet-bix)