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Five Essential Foods for Mental Wellness

While there are many factors that influence our mental health, good nutrition is essential for mental wellness. Some studies suggest that our diets can influence a number of mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, in 2014, a study from the University of Newcastle concluded that a high intake of fruits, fish, vegetables, fish, and whole grains had positive results against depression (Globe and Mail).

What does good nutrition mean?

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, eating well means eating in a way that allows for the following:

  • Your weight remains normal according to your height
  • Your weight remains stable without frequent ups and downs
  • Your diet includes all necessary food groups and vitamins
  • Eating becomes and remains an enjoyable experience

Five Essentials and their Impact on our Mental Health

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1. Leafy Greens

Deficiencies in folate and vitamin B have been linked with higher rates of depression, fatigue and insomnia. Additionally, antioxidants such as Vitamin C and beta-carotene are believed to reduce the harmful effects of free radicals (or oxidative stress). In 2009, researchers from the University of British Columbia found higher levels of oxidative stress in patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Pro-tip: Carrots are one of the best sources of beta-carotene.

2. Fatty Fish

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, have been shown to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, and more. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the integrity of our brain cell membranes. Fatty acids “protect our brain cells and help with anti-inflammation so our brain can send signals to other parts of our bodies” (Global News). An imbalance of Omega-3 fatty acids can affect the way our brain cells communicate with each other. Most importantly, a deficit in fatty acids has been associated with high risks of depression.

3. Yogurt with Active Cultures

Contrary to popular belief, most yogurts are rich in probiotics. Probiotics have not only been shown to reduce anxiety and stress hormones, but they also feed our “good” gut bacteria which in turn synthesize most of our body’s Serotonin. Serotonin is believed to help regulate mood and social behaviour, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.

Pro-tip: Probiotics can also be found in whole grains, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions, and chicory root (Globe and Mail).

Gut health has been linked to mental health in multiple studies such as this one by Frontiers in Psychiatry and another one, by the University of Virginia Health System.

4. Whole Grains

Complex carbs release glucose, providing a steady source of fuel for the brain. Studies have shown that whole grains (such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts) can also help reduce mood swings, anxiety, and depression. Many whole grains are also rich in Tryptophan, an amino acid that your body needs to produce serotonin and melatonin (Whole Grain Council). As mentioned above, Serotonin is known to improve mood, while melatonin helps maintain steady sleep cycles.

5. Lean Protein

The amino acid Tryptophan, a building block of protein, influences mood by producing the neurotransmitter Serotonin; which helps regulate mood. Certain protein-packed foods such as lentils, are also low on the glycemic index, meaning it regulates blood sugar. Steady levels of blood sugar not only help with mood but also keep you energized throughout the day (Global News).



  • Diet and Mental Health. (2017, November 14). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/d/diet-and-mental-health
  • Eating Well and Mental Health (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsanddisorders/eatingwellandmentalhealth.aspx
  • Whole Grains: Good Mood Food! (2014, June 18.). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from https://wholegrainscouncil.org/blog/2014/06/whole-grains-good-mood-food
  • Can Your Diet Shape your Mental Health? (2017, March 25). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/can-your-diet-shape-your-mental-health/article24647105/

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