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The Nutrition of Mental Health

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The editors at Best Masters in Counseling decided to research the topic of:

The Nutrition of Mental Health

"Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health." (World Health Organization, 2010)


- 5%: of people will have a generalized anxiety disorder in their lifetime
- 10-25%: of women have a lifetime risk for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
- 5-12%: of men have a lifetime risk for MDD
- 5-9%: of women are suffering from a MDD at any given time
- 2-3%: of men are suffering from a MDD at any given time
- 22%: of adolescents, aged 13 to 18, had already experienced a clinically significant mental health problem

The brain makes up only 2% of the human body's weight but accounts for at least 25% of its metabolic demands.

- 2nd: leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020 is estimated to be depression
- $240: million, annual cost of antidepressants in 19855
- $12: billion, annual cost of antidepressants in 20125


Like your brain, the gut has its own nervous system, which sends information to the brain via the vagus nerve.

- 30%: reduction in the risk for major depression, dysthymia, and anxiety disorders by women who regularly consumed a whole diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and high-quality meat and fish
- 50%: increased likelihood of depression in women who regularly consumed a diet high in refined or processed foods and saturated fats7
- 11%: higher likelihood of good functional health by eating two more servings of fruits and vegetables a day8


Folic Acid and Vitamin B12:

Pairing a food rich in folic acid (folate) and another rich in vitamin B12 helps to prevent disorders of the central nervous system, mood disorders, and dementias

Sources of Folic Acid:

- Beans
- Greens
Sources of Vitamin B12:

- Meats
- Poultry
- Fish
- Dairy
- 25%: lower blood folate levels has been recorded in patients with depression


A mineral that helps to reduce oxidative stress in the brain associated with some cases of mild to moderate depression in the elderly population.

- Sources of Selenium:
- Oatmeal
- Lean meat (pork, beef, chicken or turkey)
- Whole-grain bread
- Low-fat diary foods
- Brown rice
- Nuts and seeds (esp. Brazil nuts)
- Beans and legumes
- Seafood (oysters, clams, crab, sardines, fish)


Help prevent damage and deterioration to brain cells with these foods:

- 5 different colored fruits and veggies each day to get a variety
- Spices - cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic powder, and chili powder
- Dark berries, citrus, and tomatoes fight the negative effects of free radicals on cells in the brain

Protect Memory with Flavonoids

Can help keep your memory sharp and are found in:

- Tea (recommended 5 teacups per day) - Black, green, and oolong
- Brightly Colored Berries - Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are full of valuable antioxidants too
- Citrus - Grapefruits, oranges, and lemons


Whole Grains (Complex Carbohydrates)

Complex carbs: Release glucose slowly, helping us feel full longer and providing a steady source of fuel for the brain and body.

- Primary source of energy for the brain is glucose from carbohydrates
- Release serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter
- Selenium - (see above)

Types of Whole Grains:

- Oats
- Quinoa
- Whole-grain bread
- Whole-grain pasta
- Brown/Wild rice
- Bulgar
- Beans
- Soy

Lean Proteins

- Second most abundant substance in the body (behind carbs)
- Amino acid tryptophan (building block of protein) can help boost mood and reduce irritability
- Tyrosine and other amino acids may help relieve stress, promote tranquility or restfulness, and interact with serotonin in the brain to improve feelings of contentment.

Types of Lean Proteins:

- Fish
- Turkey
- Chicken
- Eggs
- Beans

Wild Cold Water Fish

High in omega-3 fatty acids, may reduce symptoms of depression, clinically defined mood swings such as postpartum depression, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

- Omega-3s have an effect on the production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for moods) including dopamine and serotonin
- Support synapses in the brain to boost learning and memory

Types of Wild Cold Water Fish:

- Salmon
- Herring
- Sardines
- Mackerel
- Seaweed
- Tuna
- Trout

Leafy Greens

High in folic acid and other B vitamins, which can reduce systems of depression, fatigue, and insomnia. Also high in selenium (see above).

Types of Leafy Greens:
- Spinach
- Romaine
- Turnip
- Mustard Greens
- Broccoli
- Beets
- Lentils

Dairy and Active Cultures

- Rich in calcium, vitamin D, whey protein, which help reduce fatigue, repair cell damage, stabilize mood, and promote feelings of well-being
- Fermented foods with active cultures contain probiotic (healthy bacteria) which have shown in studies to reduce anxiety and stress hormones and effect the neurotransmitter GABA
Dairy Sources:

- Milk
- Cheese
Active Culture Sources:

- Kefir
- Yogurt (certain kinds)
- Tempeh
- Pickled Veggies (certain kinds)
- Kimchi


- Deficiencies can cause or aggravate many neurological problems and some mental illnesses
- Magnesium and B-12 vitamins can be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms of depression


Small amounts of dark chocolate can affect the levels of brain endorphins - feel-good chemicals produced by the body.

Exercise and Mental Health:

- Reduce Stress - Exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain's responses to stress.
- Boost happy Chemicals - Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed.
- Improve Self-Confidence - On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image.
- Enjoy the Great Outdoors - Vitamin D acquired from soaking up the sun (while wearing sunscreen, of course!) can lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms.
- Prevent Cognitive Decline - Diet and exercise can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45. Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.
- Alleviate Anxiety - The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down.
- Boost Brainpower - Various studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance.
- Sharpen Memory - Regular physical activity boosts memory and the ability to learn new things by increasing production of cells in the hippocampus responsible for memory and learning.
- Increase Relaxation - For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill, even for people with insomnia.
- Be More Productive - Research shows that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers.