Food and mental health

Many people don't pay much attention to their dietary lifestyles or find it hard to accept that diet can make a difference in regards to our psychological well-being.

The truth is that it certainly can. There are foods that contain vitamins and minerals that can help prevent, reduce and manage mental illnesses, they do this by contributing to the maintenance of optimal neurological functions and maintain balance of neuro-chemicals in our brains. Food can help fight off inflammation of the brain.

It is possible that sometimes when we suffer from poor mental health what may be contributing to it can be a deficiency in these minerals and vitamins and so it is important to have an holistic approach to our psychological sessions as counsellors that bares this aspect in mind and to also get clients to consider this information alongside their therapeutic healing.

Doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors are not taught about the importance of nutrition and the links that can be made to overall health. So it is important that we are enlightened by this knowledge and share it with our clients to help them further into healing. 

A healthy diet in general is part of well being and should be encouraged regardless, this is avoiding sugar (cutting down), eating fresh food and whole foods that remain in their natural state and not processed so avoiding processed foods and junk food. Eating more fruits and vegetables and preferably eating a plant based diet alongside reducing amounts of fizzy drinks, coffee and alcohol. One doesn't need meat to obtain protein in their diet and meat can also be processed leading to poor health, in addition ethical issues are attached to eating meat. Wholegrain products are also healthier than white alternatives to rice, pasta and bread, so substitute white with brown. 

Dairy products also contribute to inflammation especially in terms of skin disorders and even mental health (casein the  protein in milk being the offender) and therefore should be avoided where possible. Many alternatives to milk (oat, almond, rice, coconut, cashew, hazelnut milk) are to be found and much calcium is obtained in vegetables such as: broccoli, potatoes, onions, aubergines. 

Scientists have also linked gut health to mental health so a staple of a healthy diet can be beneficial to overall well being. Poor gut health has been linked to memory disorders such as: dementia and Alzhiemer's disease. 

Another food to avoid in relation to poor gut and mental health is gluten. Gluten is not a natural substance and our bodies struggle to digest it. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and spelt. Mental illnesses associated with it include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, autism and eating disorders. 

So what vitamins and minerals have studies shown to help mental health?

Let's look at some of these:

  • Vitamin B's

A lack of B vitamins not only leads to fatigue but deficiency of these vitamins especially B12 and folic have been linked to depression. Some studies claim that folic acid may reduce depression when taken in conjunction with vitamin B12. Deficiency in folic acid is also believed to lead to anxiety. This is because the role of B vitamins is producing brain chemicals that can affect our mood and brain function. Therefore, it's important to consider that something such as a deficiency many be causing or contributing to this mental illness and that by regulating the body and brain with the necessary needed vitamins can help reduce depressive symptoms brought on by B vitamin deficiency alongside psychological counselling. Niacin (B3) and Thiamin (B1) can also alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia and alcohol abuse.

  • Magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, managanese

Studies have shown that deficiencies in these minerals can lead to anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders. These minerals all aid in the function of neurotransmitters. They can be found in dark, leafy greens such as spinach. 

Magnesium has long been known for its calming properties on the nervous system and according to studies can help alleviate panic attacks, anxiety, depression and anger. So if you suffer from panic attacks, depression or anger and anxiety, you may have a magnesium deficiency. Foods that contain magnesium are avocados, vegetables (and green leafy vegetables), bananas, nuts and seeds.

Copper overload can result in emotional meltdowns, frequent anger, anxiety, depression. It is very easy for copper overload to result. Its role is in assisting the immune system, the endocrine system, and the nervous system. Copper deficiency can lead to anger problems, mood disorders and ADHD. Foods that contain cooper are: lentils, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, chickpeas.

Iron is essential for normal neurological function. Deficiency can present itself as anxiety, depression, irritability, and even poor concentration. In the research article published by BMC Psychiatry, the researchers, concluded that “Iron deficiency increased the risk of psychiatric disorders, including mood disorders, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and developmental disorders.” Foods that contain iron are: artichokes, spinich, broccoli, beans, lentils, dried fruit.

Zinc deficiencies can play a role in depression, it also plays a role in brain functions such as in the functions of neurons and therefore can help with things such as neuroplasticity moods. Foods that contain zinc are: whole grains, beans, nuts.

Managanese aids in brain development and functions, and is essential for human survival. A deficiency can lead to impaired memory, mood changes and mental illness such as anxiety. Like with any minerals too much can also be harmful and lead to side effects, these include symptoms resembling Parkinson's disease, such as shaking (tremors). Foods that contain managanese are: cabbage, spinach, potatoes, beans, seeds, nuts, vegetables (such as asparagus).

  • Omega 3

Studies in adults suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. You don't need to eat fish to obtain omega 3, it can come from other sources such as walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed.

As we have seen a good diet and food can make a contribution towards our mental well being so it should never be dismissed or ignored.

Not all people respond to anti-depressents and medication and these can come with side effects. A natural way through diet and psychological counselling therapy are important for overall mental health but a healthy diet is important for general physical health and refers to all of us not just those who suffer from a mental illness, as a healthy diet can help prevent numerous aliments and contribute to a healthier and longer life. For people where medication is necessary, a change in diet can still make a difference. 

Important notes to consider is that these deficiencies cannot always be measured by blood or urine samples by doctors, as some such as Zinc deficiency would not show up. Also it is recommended that if you try supplements it is important that you consult a health care provider before starting any kind of supplement regimen. A general overall healthy diet will provide us with the sufficient and necessary vitamin and minerals, however supplements can be needed at times, this is okay as long as one doesn't rely solely on them and that they compliment rather than substitute a healthy diet.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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