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5 best foods to eat for mental health and mood balance

From an early age, we learn that eating healthy will make us look great, and while this is absolutely true, we often neglect to think about how our mental health can also be affected by the types of food we eat or don’t eat. We forget that eating for our mental health is also very important.

Just like good, quality food makes us feel good inside and out, bad food also drains us mentally. When we feed our body empty calories, additives, and preservatives like those found in processed foods, and junk foods, we end up making ourselves sick or aggravating other problems we might already have. Conversely, when we feed our body and brain high-quality foods like homemade meals or professionally prepped, portion-controlled meals, we give our body and brain the right nourishment to function properly.

Although no one food is guaranteed to boost your mood since how you feel mentally can depend on a lot of other factors, including environment, stress levels, nutritional deficiencies, underlying medical conditions, genetics, and quality of sleep, some foods have actually been scientifically proven to improve your brain health, help with anxiety, help with depression, and improve other mood disorders. Here are 5 healthy and best foods to improve your mental health!

1. Beans and lentils

Beans and lentils might not be the first thing that come to mind when you think about foods that can make you feel good, but these plant-based proteins are high in fibre and nutrients.

legumes and lentils are part of an anti-anxiety diet

They are good sources of zinc, which has been shown to improve depression and cognitive function. They have a rich magnesium content, which has been shown to treat depression, anxiety, tension, and symptoms of PMS. Some people consider beans and lentil as top foods that help with anxiety and a strong component of an anti-anxiety diet. They are also known as foods that fight depression.

Beans and lentils also contain a good dose of the B vitamins that are important for nerve conduction and general nerve health. B vitamins are also responsible for increasing the levels of the feel-good hormones and chemicals in our body – serotonin and dopamine.

2. Berries

Berries do more than just take care of our sweet tooth or satisfy a fruit craving; they also lower our risk of depression. Like most other fruits and vegetables, berries are packed with antioxidants that decrease inflammation in our body, detoxify our body of harmful compounds, and reduce the risk of certain mood disorders.

berries lower depression

Berries get their characteristic red, purple, or blue colour from anthocyanins (natural water-soluble pigments), which have not only been shown to protect us against many disease, but also to reduce the risk of depression in all ages, including children and young adults. Berries have a higher dose of anthocyanins than most other fruits. Anthocyanins also protect our cells and play a role in defense against Alzheimer’s disease.

Unfortunately, berries are not always in season, but the good news is that fresh-frozen berries and fresh berries contain an equivalent amount of antioxidant so you can keep enjoying the mood-lifting benefits of berries year-round while eating one of the best foods for mental health.

3. Fatty fish

Fatty fish like tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, and salmon are a great source of two types of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) – Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosatetraenoic Acid (EPA). Deficits in omega-3 fatty acid has been shown to contribute to several mood orders, thus supplementation with fish oil is an emerging approach to treatment of mood disorders. Fish is considered part of foods good for mental health and is frequently recommended as a food that can improve mental health wellness.

salmon boost mental health

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids are effective for treating postpartum depression, improving major depressive disorder, and boosting mental health. Omega-3 fatty acid also improves brain health and development and has also been shown to reduce the risk of clinical depression, especially in females. Omega-3s show positive benefits in schizophrenia, personality disorder, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.

The recommended dose of omega-3s is about 250–500mg combined dose of EPA and DHA, and this can be easily achieved by eating fish 2–3 times a week, as each 100g of fish contains about 2200mg of EPA and DHA.

4. Oats

Oats might as well be a miracle plant-based food for all they do! From keeping us full longer so we can control our food intake to helping our hearts stay strong, oats are a very important component of healthy eating.

Oats also have a high fibre content, which is essential for keeping our blood sugar steady to improve mood swings, tension, and irritability. One cup of raw oat contains up to 8g of fibre, and people who eat oats for breakfast tend to have more stable blood sugar levels and less variability with their mental health.

oats improve mood swings

Oats are also a great source for iron, and up to 20% of our daily required amount of iron can be got from just one raw cup of oats. Iron deficiency leads to sluggishness, mood disorders, and decline in cognitive function. Research shows that iron can help stabilise the mood, especially in those with iron-deficiency thus oats are considered good foods for mental health.

5. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are rich in plant-based protein, fibre, and healthy fats, but they are also needed for many other great reasons.

nuts and seeds boost brain function

They contain tryptophan, an amino acid that produces serotonin, a natural mood stabiliser also known as the happy chemical because it prevents depression and promotes a sense of happiness and well-being. They also contain zinc and selenium, two minerals important for elevating brain function, reducing depression, and promoting mental health.

Nuts and seeds make up a huge component of the Mediterranean diet and MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), and both designed to slow age-related decline in mental health. The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet (healthy-heart diet) and the foods eaten on this diet include fish, poultry, green leafy vegetables, berries, etc. Both Mediterranean and MIND diets have been shown to lower our risk of depression while boosting brain function and so are recognised as good diets for mental health.