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Food For Thought: Does Diet Effect Mental Health?

Mental health and nutritional deficiency has become a popular topic in the health and wellness world. Doctors, nutritionist, and health coaches have made the connection between "food and mood" and are now focusing on diet to improve the mental wellness of their patients and clients.

The Standard American Diet (appropriately called the SAD diet) lacks the nutrients needed for proper cognitive function.

Some of the nutrient deficiencies that have been linked to poor mental health include:

  • Vitamin D

  • Zinc

  • Amino Acids

  • B12

  • B6

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Vitamin D- Studies have shown that most men and women who had low levels of vitamin D suffered from depression and cognitive impairment (brain fog).

Thankfully vitamin D can be supplemented and can be obtained through whole foods like salmon, mackerel, raw milk, eggs and mushrooms.

Zinc- Low zinc levels have been found in people who suffer from anxiety and depression. Zinc has even recently been hailed as "the new antidepressant" and for good reason. An essential cofactor in conversion of amino acids, zinc is vital for two of the most important neurotransmitters of mood (L-Tryptophan into serotonin and L-Tyrosine into dopamine). Zinc rich foods include oysters, shitake mushrooms, lentils, pumpkin seeds and nuts.

Amino Acids-Amino Acids are vital protein fragments available as building blocks of the body after digestion. They are also the “raw material” for the mood stabilizing and “happy chemicals of the brain” known as neurotransmitters, which include serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and endorphins. Amino acids can be obtained through meat, seafood, and raw dairy.

B12-Inadequate levels of B12 have been linked to dementia, depression, anxiety, extreme fatigue and even psychosis. B12 supports myelin (which is involved with nerve conduction) and is a necessary cofactor in the methylation cycle (how neurotransmitters are made) making proper levels essential for proper neurological function. B12 can be found in foods like sardines, lamb, wild-caught salmon, nutritional yeast, feta cheese and eggs.

B6-B6 is also an important cofactor in the production of neurotransmitters. Deficiency can lead to anxiety, irritability, fatigue and worsening PMS symptoms. Thankfully there are plenty of foods you can add to your diet including turkey, grass-fed beef, tuna, avocados and pinto beans.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids-People who struggle with anxiety typically have very low levels of Omega-3's in their body. Since the body cannot produce Omega-3 on it's own and the standard American diet is predominately made up of inflammatory Omega-6, it's important to make dietary changes so that your body can function properly. Omega-3 rich foods to add to your diet include white fish, mackerel, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds and egg yolk.

While the above is just a few examples of how nutrition can effect mental health, you should always refer to your doctor for bloodwork to make sure you are eating for your specific nutritional needs.

I believe that food is just a piece to the puzzle of better mental health. As a holistic health coach, I also encourage and advise clients to seek help. Make sure you are balancing other areas of your life like work, social-life and spirituality.

Working on mental health with this holistic approach is sure to lead to better health overall!

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