Think you need Prozac® or that your child should be on ADHD medication? It might be that the emotional disturbances you or your child experience are actually a result of deficiencies in your diet. Could it be that a simple boost in vitamins and minerals is all that you’re missing?
Like all other organs in the body, the brain needs certain nutrients in certain amounts in order to function at full capacity. Our brains are production centers for chemicals called neurotransmitters that regulate mood, and it needs raw materials to create these chemicals. Some of these building blocks cannot be created by the body and must be consumed on a regular basis.
A study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology (2002;12:205–19) found that upping the intake of certain nutrients aided in normalizing brain function in children. A multivitamin-multi-mineral supplement was administered to kids with attention deficit disorder as well as other emotional problems.
The supplementation helped to control outbursts and regulate mood. While, in some more extreme cases, prescription treatments like Ritalin® were utilized, the multivitamin-multi-mineral provided support across the board—with no side effects.
In a British study, 80% of individuals with mood disorders affirmed that food choices affected how they felt. Processed sugar and alcohol were named as the biggest stressors, while foods like fruit, nuts, vegetables and oil-rich fish were shown to support a balanced mood.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids. These are important to cell health, most especially in the brain, which is the fattiest organ in the body. Fat-soluble vitamins work to strengthen cell membranes.
Proper hydration is also integral to proper brain function. Water is the substance that keeps our bodies operating. For men, The Institute of Medicine recommends around 13 cups (3 liters) of fluid each day, while, for women, the recommendation is around 9 cups (2.2 liters) of water or other beverages.
Caffeinated beverages, on the other hand, have been shown to wreak havoc on our mental state, especially to those individuals with undiagnosed caffeine sensitivities. Caffeine toxicity can often manifest as anxiety or depression and is often misdiagnosed as ADD, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or even schizophrenia.
Some other good rules of thumb for planning a diet for good mental health include:
- Always eat breakfast. Individuals who eat breakfast have generally faster metabolisms, better memories and more mental dexterity than those who skip it.
- Vitamin C. The brain requires 15 times the amount of vitamin C necessary for blood plasma levels. You can find high concentrations of vitamin C in citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, melons, tomatoes, and dark green vegetables.
- Eat whole foods. Try to reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates. These are foods that are processed in order to extend their shelf life, such as white sugar, white flour, and hydrogenated oils. Generally, the closer you get to a food’s natural state, the better it is for you.
- B Vitamins help fight depression. B vitamins are essential for a well-functioning nervous system, and, in depressed individuals, are often found lacking. There are six main B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate, also called folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin). While you can buy supplements to boost your Bs, it’s ideal to find them in whole foods. Riboflavin naturally occurs in milk, yogurt and dark green leafy greens. Niacin is found in peanuts, meat and whole grains. B6 can be found in beans, fish, and, again, dark green vegetables. (For a list of additional sources, click here: 8 Nutrients That Boost Energy and Mood.)
- Get plenty of protein. Protein-rich snacks boost production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which improve stress levels, mood, and mental acuity.
- Balance your fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Any diet that asks you to cut out any one of these important macronutrients is hazardous to your mental health. Also, binging on carbohydrates or fats can throw off your neurotransmitter balance. One easy way to think about building a healthy diet is to get at least three bright colors into each meal. Natural foods are actually color-coded in the sense that bright colors signify strong instances of certain vitamins. The more different colors you eat, the more of a well-rounded and balanced diet you’ll have. A balanced diet leads to a balanced outlook. It’s as simple as that.