12 Essential Nutrients to Improve Mental Fitness

12 Essential Nutrients to Improve Mental Fitness

Apr 23, 2021Uma Naidoo

We are used to looking at food as energy and fuel but food is so much more. The food we eat is pure information; a combination of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and compounds that either work to boost our health and prevent disease or work against our health and create inflammation that promotes disease.

Food is the key to improve and optimize mental and physical health. As a nutritional psychiatrist I see how much my patients benefit from dietary and nutritional advice; research now shows how connected the health of our gut microbiome is with our mental health. Also how several foods trigger mental health conditions like anxiety and ADHD while many other foods improve and help fend off conditions like depression, Alzheimers and even fatigue. A sound diet can not only benefit your blood sugar and insulin levels but can also decrease your symptoms of insomnia and burnout. Bottom line, what’s good for the body is good for the brain.

The field of nutritional psychiatry is nascent but booming. Focusing on nutrition to optimize brain health and, in doing so, preventing and treating mental health concerns is the key. With dietary interventions sometimes achieving great results where medication trials and therapy are not always as effective as once thought and research showing about a 50% positive response to treatment.

The nutrients from food influence chemicals that directly and indirectly affect your brain and in turn change the way you think and feel. These are the 12 KEY NUTRIENTS to include in your diet to improve your mental and physical health: Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is used for cell development throughout your body. Deficiency may interfere with DNA synthesis and repair and overall cellular function in the brain leading to chronic fatigue, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders .

Several studies have demonstrated this B vitamin supplement is effective in decreasing symptoms in these conditions.

Find folate in: Leafy greens (swiss chard, kale, spinach), legumes (cooked lentils and chickpeas), asparagus, green peas, organ meats and brussel sprouts.

Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the essential fatty acids that you need to obtain through food because your body does not produce any, and they are crucial for proper cardiovascular protection, and brain health. Lack of omega-3s in your diet has detrimental effects on cognitive function. Scientific studies demonstrate that dementia patients have low omega-3 levels and that taking supplements may help protect the healthy brain and delay cognitive decline in mild cases. Low omega-3s levels have also been associated with chronic inflammation, potentially contributing to depression symptoms.

Find them in: chia and flax seeds, algae sardines, wild sock-eye salmon, mackerel, cod liver oil, herring, oysters, caviar, walnuts, soybeans, avocados and extra-virgin olive oil.

Vitamin D, is a fat-soluble vitamin known for its role in calcium absorption, bone growth, mineralization, and remodeling. In the brain, Vitamin D acts as a neuro-steroid and plays a role in protecting against depression and anxiety disorders. Studies demonstrated that vitamin D decreases inflammation and toxic destruction of cells and controls the release of nerve growth factor, which is essential for hippocampal and cortical neuron function. Deficiency in vitamin D plays a crucial role in regulating stress responses.

Find it in: About 80% of our vitamin D comes from direct sunlight exposure. Food sources of vitamin D are cod-liver oil, egg yolks, herring, mushrooms, oysters, salmon, sardines, shrimp, fortified nut milks, and canned tuna fish.

Iron is a mineral and a vital component of hemoglobin, a protein that transfers oxygen from your lungs to all tissues in your body. The most common iron deficiency is anemia and symptoms of fatigue. Clinical studies relate iron deficiency with mood disorders and ADHD. That is because iron helps protect neurons and controls the synthesis of chemicals involved in mood.

Find it in: cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, and Bok Choy; dark chocolate, red meat, turkey, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans), pumpkin seeds, shellfish (clam, oysters, and mussels) and fish.

Magnesium is a mineral in the body that regulates at least 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle, and nerve function. This mineral helps to regulate many key neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation. Magnesium deficiency is associated with anxiety, ADHD , fatigue, and low libido. It has also shown to improve quality of sleep.

Find it in: avocados, almonds, spinach, cashews, pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, black beans and edamame.

Potassium is an essential mineral present in all body tissues and is required for normal cell function because of its role in maintaining healthy nerve function and regulating fluid balance. Clinical studies suggest that low blood potassium levels disrupt the signals that help maintain optimal brain function leading to anxiety, mental fatigue, and ADHD .

Find it in: Banana, cucumbers, mushrooms, oranges, pears, sweet potatoes, and maca.

Selenium is a powerful mineral that plays a critical role in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative stress and infection. Acts as a powerful antioxidant for the brain. Several studies indicate that low levels lead to depression and supplementation may improve mood and anxiety. Several studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have lower blood levels of selenium.

Find it in: Brazil nuts, Halibut, Sardines, Shrimp, Beefsteak, beet liver, chicken and cottage cheese.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), is one of the water-soluble B vitamins. This vitamin plays a critical role in enabling your body to use carbohydrates as energy. It is essential in the growth, development, and function of cells. Deficiency of vitamin B1 can lead to mental problems, including confusion, short-term memory loss, sleep problems, and anxiety. The B vitamins are sometimes called anti-stress vitamins, possibly because they decrease the oxidative stress in the brain.

Find it in: acorn squash, asparagus, barley, beef, black beans, cauliflower, eggs, sunflower seeds, spinach, peas, Brussel sprouts, and tomatoes.

Vitamin A refers to a group of retinoids and their most popular role is our vision. Other roles of vitamin A are in immune functions, reproduction, and cellular communications. It has been shown that vitamin A facilitates proper brain function, such as the growth and adaptations of neurons (neuroplasticity). Vitamin A deficiency may result in shrinkage of specific brain areas, disturbing how the brain responds to stress and leading to mood and anxiety disorders

Find it in: liver (beef, cod-liver oil, lamb), Bluefin tuna, Mackerel, Salmon, Trout, Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, black-eyed peas, blue cheese, feta and goat cheeses, caviar, and hard-boiled eggs.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin), is a water-soluble vitamin required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. Central to the production of mood-regulating (dopamine and serotonin), it’s deficiency has been associated with low mood, OCD, poor sleep, and schizophrenia. The actions of vitamin B12 are linked to folate.

Find it in: beef, clams, milk, yogurt, swiss cheese, nutritional yeast, organ meats, salmon, sardines, trout, tempeh, and nori.

Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is essential for proper brain functioning, as it’s for the biosynthesis of certain neurotransmitters, and is a crucial antioxidant in the brain. Vitamin C deficiency has been associated with fatigue, mood, anxiety, focus, memory, sleep, schizophrenia, and ADHD disorders.

Find it in: cherries, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, chili peppers, kale, kiwifruit, lemons, oranges, papaya, parsley, persimmons, strawberries, sweet yellow peppers, thyme.

Zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism. It is necessary for the activity of over 300 enzymes that aid in metabolisms, digestion, nerve function, and others. Several studies suggest an association between low levels of Zinc and the risk of depression. In children, zinc deficiencies are associated with ADHD.

Find it in: shellfish, beans, meat, nuts, poultry, fish, whole grains, eggs, and grass milk dairy products.

So add these nutrients to your diet to fortify your brain health and improve your mood!

More articles