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Diet and mental health

Food and micronutrients - is there a connection??

In my third post on mental health and nutrition I'll be looking at micronutrients and mood

  • Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, and other chemicals found in food (as opposed to macros, which are protein/fat /carbohydrates /fibre etc)

  • A group of these are vital for mental wellbeing - they are needed to produce neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), they also reduce inflammation and promote gut health

  • New research indicates that depression and anxiety may be due to a combination of several key factors - inflammation, the gut biome (see my post on food and mood), and neuroplasticity (the brains ability to rewire and fix itself) (6)

  • All of these factors can be influenced by diet and lifestyle (ill be posting on neuroplasticity soon, and ways to increase happiness!!)

  • Research has repeatedly shown that people who eat a traditional whole food diet rich in plants are over 30% less likely to develop depression (2, 3,4)

  • Another groundbreaking clinical trial from Australia showed that changing the diet of people with severe depression, resulted in over 30% of people achieving remission of their symptoms

  • The 13 key micronutrients needed for mental health are iron, selenium, zinc, folate, b6, b12, omega 3, thiamine, vitamin a, magnesium, potassium, vitamin d, and vitamin c

A lack of any of these nutrients can have a negative effect on mental health (1)

  • While it can be useful to test for some of these if you are at risk of deficiency, a far more practical approach is to maximise your dietary intake of 'mind foods'

  • A super interesting paper written by a nutritional psychiatrist in the US, looked at various foods and ranked them, based on how rich they were in these micronutrients, then created an antidepressant food score (1)

  • Plant based foods (leafy greens and brassica) came out tops, with spinach scoring a massive 97%!! Interestingly plant foods had an average score of 48%, while animal based foods scored very poorly, with the exception of organ meat (25%) and seafood (16%). Fruits scored reasonably well at 20% (6)

  • They concluded the most effective antidepressant diet, was mostly plant based, rich in leafy greens /brassica /nuts, with small amounts of seafood (ie Mediterranean style diet). This mirrors findings from other studies, as well as the 'MIND' diet recommended for brain health /memory

  • Some other great research from nz, then looked at the effect of supplementing these micronutrients, on depression and anxiety

  • They found a significant reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms in people given vitamin supplements (compared to placebo). Similar results were found in trials after Christchurch earthquakes, and in prison inmates ( This can be a useful option for people who have implemented diet and lifestyle changes but are still struggling with depression /anxiety

  • Since the same foods that improve mental health are also incredible for overall health, why not start including them in your diet, and see how you feel? There is nothing to lose

Details on the SMILES dietary trial here Article on the antidepressant food scale here Indepth look at micronutrient supplements in mental health here

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