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How do nutrients contribute to a good mood?

Ensuring mental health is a topic of discussion that is slowly beginning to be thoroughly researched and of concern to people. This is due to the growing trend of depression and suicide in large and small societies around the world. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. In fact, diet seems to play an important role in mental illnesses such as depression, etc.

Evgenia Ioannidou

Evgenia Ioannidou

Nutrition & Dietetics at the Alexandreio Institute of Technology in Thessaloniki

Ensuring mental health is a topic of discussion that is slowly beginning to be thoroughly researched and of concern to people. This is due to the growing trend of depression and suicide in large and small societies around the world. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. In fact, diet seems to play an important role in mental illnesses such as depression, etc.

But how do nutrients contribute to a good mood?

After extensive research into the link between diet and brain health, experts have concluded that certain foods actually help improve human mental health.

A 2018 systematic review identified 12 key nutrients that met the criteria for antidepressant effectiveness. Folic acid, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA), selenium, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are among them.

The Antidepressant Food Score (AFS) was used as a comparison tool. The AFS is the first nutrient formulation system created to inform nutritional recommendations related to mental health. This evidence-based approach is unique in that it is based on the density of antidepressant nutrients. In other words, the nutrients examined/evaluated have been shown in human studies to have a positive effect on mental health.

The foods with the highest antidepressant food scores (AFS) were oysters, mussels, other seafood, meat organs, green leafy vegetables, lettuce, peppers and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

In this article we will look at the nutrients that contribute to better brain function and health and the foods in which they are found.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids belong to the family of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are essential for normal brain function. A diet low in omega-3 leads to learning and memory problems and is associated with mental disorders such as attention deficit, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Omega-3s are either naturally present in certain foods or added to form fortified foods. Omega-3s are found in the following foods:

  • Fish and other seafood (especially cold water oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines).
  • Nuts and seeds (such as flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts).
  • Vegetable oils (such as soybean oil, etc.)

Vitamin B complex

A Spanish study found that rates of depression tend to increase in men – particularly smokers – because they have less folate.

Foods rich in folic acid are:

  • Green leafy vegetables: Spinach, kale, broccoli, asparagus, peas, lettuce.
  • Fruits: Oranges, bananas, strawberries.
  • Pulses: beans, lentils.
  • Wholegrain cereals, especially wheat germ. Yeast is a rich source of folic acid.
  • Beef liver.
  • Poultry meat, pork.
  • Seafood, especially molluscs.

In women respectively – especially those who smoked or did not exercise – rates of depression appeared to increase in those who took less vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found in all low-fat animal products, such as fish and dairy products. It is also found in eggs, beef and chicken.

Selenium

Several studies have shown a correlation between low selenium levels in the body and the development of a bad mood. If the lack of this element persists over a long period of time, it can cause serious brain damage, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Foods where selenium is found :

Beans and legumes.
Lean meat (lean pork and beef, skinless chicken and turkey).
Low-fat dairy products.
Nuts and seeds.
Seafood (oysters, mussels, clams, sardines, crabs, saltwater and freshwater fish).
Whole grains (wholemeal pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.).

Vitamin D

Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Researchers behind a 2013 meta-analysis noted that study participants who were depressed also had low vitamin D levels. The same analysis found that, statistically, people with low vitamin D levels had a significantly higher risk of depression.

Foods rich in vitamin D that help prevent depression are:

  • Salmon.
  • Tuna.
  • Mackerel.
  • Other oily fish.
  • Cod liver oil.
  • Animal fats.
  • Food products fortified with vitamin D, such as orange juice and cereals.
  • Almonds.

At the end of 2009, a study showed that people who followed more closely a Mediterranean diet, long recognised as a healthy way of eating, had a reduced risk of depression over a 10-year follow-up period.

In conclusion, a diet rich in the nutrients mentioned can help improve your mood and, by extension, your mental health. The dietary pattern that contains all of these nutrients is of course the Mediterranean diet that we are all familiar with, as it combines the consumption of beneficial fatty acids, fresh fruit and vegetables. So, before you consider antidepressant pills as your only solution, consider the foods mentioned above and try to incorporate them into your diet.

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