Author: Cecilia Snyder, MS, RD
When Casimir Funk first coined the term “vitamine” in 1912, there’s a pretty good chance that he already had a sneaking suspicion just how important these tiny organic compounds would eventually turn out to be, considering that the word “vitamine” roughly translates to mean “vital amines.” But what he might not have realized is that his discovery and subsequent exploration of vitamins would result in what could be argued as one of the greatest health and nutrition science turning points of the twentieth century.
I mean, wow! Just think… only a little over one hundred years ago, we didn’t even know what vitamins were. And yet today, vitamins and minerals are considered to be an integral part of our diets and our health–both physical and mental. You read that right… we’ve suspected for awhile now that certain nutrients and their presence, or lack thereof, in our diets could be having a significant impact on our mental health. But it wasn’t until recent years that credible research really began to highlight the potential links between diet, mood, depression, and mental health overall.
Early findings from studies like the SMILES trial suggest that dietary changes could be just as powerful, if not even more powerful, in treating depression than some of the more commonly used treatments such as social support. Of course, more research is still needed on this topic, but the initial findings are seriously promising! And exciting! As things continue to unfold, everything from green tea to your gut microbiota and especially a few key vitamins and minerals are showing potential to help improve mental health.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the specific nutrients showing promise, and next time you find yourself feeling blue, consider filling up on some mood-boosting nutrients with one of these recipe ideas.
The B Vitamins
The B vitamins are a group of eight different compounds that help the body do everything from producing energy to creating new blood cells. This group of vitamins also plays an essential role in neurological health. Or in other words, these vitamins help play a role in keeping our brains (and our thoughts) happy and healthy. Making sure to have adequate levels of a few B vitamins (in particular, vitamins B6, B12, and folate) is even beginning to show potential as a protectant against depression.
For a boost of B vitamins, fill up on: clams, tuna, salmon, trout, beef liver, poultry, eggs, dairy, avocados, leafy green vegetables (spinach, lettuce, mustard greens), black-eyed peas, chickpeas, and fortified cereals and grains
Historically famous for its importance in the prevention of bone conditions like rickets and osteomalacia, vitamin D has recently made its way into the spotlight as a factor to consider with depression. Unfortunately, not many foods are high in vitamin D, so you’ve really got to be intentional about making sure to get enough in your diet. The good news is that our bodies can actually produce vitamin D as well. But in order to do so, our skin needs to be exposed to sunlight. Sounds to me like a really valid excuse to get outside and soak up the sunshine more often! And I’ve got the perfect smoothie recipe to help keep you cool while doing so.
For a boost of vitamin D, fill up on: swordfish, salmon, tuna, sardines, beef liver, egg yolks, fortified cereals, dairy products, and orange juices
Most well-known for its role in producing hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells), having enough iron in your diet is also critical to avoiding a deficiency known as anemia. Having anemia doesn’t only mean that your iron levels are too low, but it also carries side effects including extreme fatigue, irritability, and headaches. I’m sure you can imagine how quickly these symptoms could take a toll on your mental health. To top things off, iron deficiency has further been linked to mood disorders.
For a boost of iron, fill up on: oysters, sardines, beef and beef liver, tofu, white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, spinach, stewed tomatoes, cashews, raisins, brown rice, and fortified cereals and grains
- Spinach and White Bean Soup
- Oyster and Tomato Stew
- One-Pot Spinach Dal (for even more iron, add tofu!)
Anxiety. The archnemesis of Millennials, Gen Z, and Baby Boomers alike. The word alone has the potential to leave one feeling some kind of way. You might have heard that the prevalence of anxiety-related conditions has dramatically increased over the past few years. And while there is no doubt that record numbers of people are now reporting anxiety, it’s a little hard to gauge exactly how much these issues have increased over the years since the type of research we are capable of producing now looks much different than research that was conducted 30, 50, or 100 years ago. Nevertheless, the struggle with anxiety is real. And some people are turning to the mineral magnesium as a way to combat anxious emotions when they begin to feel overwhelming. Why magnesium? Well, it’s known for its importance in a healthy nervous system, which means it could play a significant role in all types of neurological conditions–we’re talking everything from anxiety to depression and even migraines.
For a boost of magnesium, fill up on: nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts and peanut butter), legumes (black beans, edamame, soymilk), potatoes, avocados, bananas, raisins, yogurt, milk, fortified cereals and grains, and dark chocolate
- Edamame, Avocado, and Brown Rice Veggie Bowl
- Magnificent Magnesium-filled Trail Mix
- Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
We covered four key nutrients that are showing a potential connection with mental health. But these certainly aren’t the only nutrients with promise. Compounds like omega-3 fatty acids, tryptophan, serotonin, vitamin C, zinc, and more are all showing potential as well. Try to eat a variety of nutrient dense foods on a regular basis so that all of your nutrient levels stay stocked and to help you feel ready for what each new day brings.