Eating Right for Mental Health 

By Heather Matzkowitz, LMSW

I was listening to a podcast the other day titled 'Eating Right to Feel Good,’ which I found to be very insightful. A growing body of evidence suggests that people who suffer from depression may benefit from changes in their diet. If your body lacks essential nutrients, then it may not have what it needs to produce important brain chemicals (i.e. neurotransmitters). Serotonin is a well known neurotransmitter that regulates happiness, anxiety, and overall mood. Neurotransmitters are nourished from the nutrients that we consume. 

Research has shown that the modern western diet, which is high in saturated fats and refined processed foods, can increase depression likelihood by 50 percent. Alcohol, which is a depressant, should be consumed in smaller quantities as it can also contribute to depression. In the podcast, Dr. Leslie Korn talks about the importance of interpreting the messages we get from our cravings and then substituting healthier options. For instance, if you are experiencing a craving for chocolate, your body might be needing the mineral magnesium. Chocolate is rich in magnesium, which has a relaxing effect on our mood. We may crave chocolate without knowing that part of our body wisdom is saying, ‘give me more magnesium.’ The issue is that most chocolate is high in sugar, a pro-inflammatory food. Dr. Korn discusses how we now understand depression as an inflammatory disease, not a lack of serotonin. When reaching for chocolate try to go for some dark chocolate instead. 

To boost your mood, try adding more of these foods: 

  • Low-Glycemic foods (i.e. most fruits and vegetables, beans, minimally processed grains, low-fat dairy foods, lentils, nuts)
  • Magnesium (found in dark chocolate, avocados, bananas, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, leafy greens, fish)
  • Omega-3 Fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sardines, salmon, mackerel)
  • Tryptophan (oats, chocolate, milk, yogurt, red meats, cottage cheese, fish, poultry, chickpeas, almonds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, peanuts)

If you want to make changes in what you eat, try starting with small changes. For example, if you’re eating roasted peanuts, try switching to raw peanuts. If you’re eating milk chocolate, try to switch to dark chocolate. It’s important to check in with yourself and ask, “What foods make me feel good?” And “What foods sap my energy and make me feel depressed?” Make it a practice to be mindful of these answers when making food choices throughout the day. 

Heather Matzkowitz is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.