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Food provides you with the nutrition you need to function effectively. But did you know that what you put into your body impacts both your physical and mental health?
According to research published in The British Medical Journal (The BMJ), poor nutrition, and specific foods and food groups impact your mental health and may even increase the risk of conditions such as anxiety and depression. Conversely, a balanced diet is associated with positive effects on mental health and mood.
Here are 5 foods and how they affect your mental health.
If you need a quick pick-me-up, coffee is your best bet. It contains caffeine, a stimulant that can help you to feel more energetic and alert, and, as a result, more productive. However, if you’re experiencing chronic stress, too much caffeine may worsen your condition.
Since caffeine elevates cortisol, the stress hormone, elevated levels of caffeine in the body may cause similar symptoms to anxiety, including nervousness (the jitters), trouble sleeping, an increased heart rate and restlessness.
Serving suggestion: Drink three to four cups of coffee per day or a maximum of 400mg of caffeine. Keep in mind that the amount of caffeine varies between different coffee brands, so always check labels.
2. Dark chocolate
Serotonin is a mood-boosting hormone, and when levels are low, you may experience cravings for foods like dark
chocolate. This snackable indulgence contains high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to produce serotonin.
Magnesium, which plays a role in mood regulation, is also found in this sweet treat. Elevated levels of serotonin have been shown to help ease anxiety while magnesium deficiency, on the other hand, may increase the risk of depression and anxiety.
Serving suggestion: Dark chocolate contains 50–90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. Try to have a maximum of 20g of dark chocolate per day.
3. Fatty fish
Salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. Omega-3
fatty acids may also be involved in mood regulation and could even help lower the risk of mood disorders. For example, research published in the National Library of Medicine examined the link between fatty fish and depression.
It was found that eating more fish is associated with a lower risk of depression. This may be because omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, which may relieve symptoms of depression.
Serving suggestion: Eat at least two servings of fatty fish per week when possible.
This nutritious snack option is rich in magnesium. Cashews, brazil nuts and almonds are particularly high in this mineral. Research has shown that a magnesium deficiency may increase the risk of conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability and frequent headaches. Magnesium may also help you recover from these conditions.
Serving suggestion: Have a third of a cup or a handful per day.
If you need a quick energy boost, reach for a banana. High in complex carbohydrates, fibre and vitamin B6, bananas deliver powerful and sustained energy. Vitamin B6 plays an essential role in mood regulation, boosting the production of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine. If the body has insufficient vitamin B6, it could result in irritability and poor memory, and in severe cases, an increased risk of depression.
Serving suggestion: One to two bananas per day.
For more advice related to nutrition, read these helpful articles:
The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice rom a professional. E&OE.
- Mental Health Foundation. (2017). Food for Thought: Mental Health and Nutrition Briefing. [online] Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/food-for-thought-mental-health-nutrition-briefing-march-2017.pdf [Accessed 17 August 2021]
- Clarke, J. (2020). Foods to Help Fight Depression. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at:https://www.verywellmind.com/foods-for-depression-4156403
[Accessed 17 August 2021]
- Elliott, B. (2021). Foods That Help Ease Anxiety. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-foods-that-reduceanxiety#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5 [Accessed 17 August 2021]
- Selvub, E. (2020). Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food. [online] Harvard Health Publishing. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritionalpsychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626 [Accessed 17 August 2021]