January 28, 2019

How a good diet and the right nutrients can benefit our mental health.

Written By

Brendon McIntosh

Kia Ora koutou, my name is Brendon McIntosh and I am a Community Pharmacist. I am very grateful to be asked by Corinda Taylor from the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust, to talk today abouthow a good diet and the right nutrients can benefit our mental health.

Now I know mental wellbeing is multi-factorial and there are a huge number of factors contributing to our outrageous suicide rates and rates of depression, but today I am just going to focus on some dietary things we can be doing to improve our mood.

So what would a Pharmacist know about diet and mood you may ask? Well we know a lot about biochemistry and specific human body systems including the nervous system. But for me personally, I also have a degree in Neuroscience, so I have studied the brain for 3 years and I have also completed postgraduate study in nutritional medicine so I have looked at the effects different nutrients have on our bodies and in turn, the effects our bodies have on these nutrients.

The effects our diet has on our mental health has been well documented and more and more research is coming out in support of certain foods that have a positive effect on our moods and those that can have a negative effect. Numerous studies on depressed people have shown that even minor adjustments to their diets such as eating less junk food and eating more nutrient-rich foods can lead to improvement in symptoms and depression scores.

So what are some nutrients we should be eating to help our mental wellness and what foods are these found in?

Selenium– This is important as our soils in New Zealand have low levels of selenium, which in turn means our food will have low levels. Low selenium has been linked to low mood. Foods to increase for selenium intake are whole grains, Brazil nuts, seafood and organ meats.
Vitamin D – This is the sunshine vitamin. There is a theory that our depression rates are so high due to our position relative to the sun. The same is true in countries like Sweden. It is highly recommended that kiwis supplement with Vitamin D over winter. Not only is it good for mood but has also been shown to help our immune systems.
Omega 3– This is an essential fatty acid made up of EPA and DHA. The DHA is the part that's good for brain health. A quality and environmentally conscious fish oil supplement is good for increasing our levels but ensure it is a reputable brand that the fish oil hasn’t been sitting in the Pharmacy window and been degraded by the sunlight. You can also increase omega 3 intake via food. Sardines are the best. You can also get it from salmon or tuna but beware that the bigger the fish the more risk of toxins such as mercury which have the opposite effects on our brain health. Some plants have good amounts of omega 3’s like flaxseed, hemp and chia seeds, also walnuts and almonds can be a good source.
Antioxidants– These include Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Beta Carotene. Antioxidants may help us deal with the stress associated with mood disorders. These can come from foods like kiwifruit, oranges, carrots, raw nuts and leafy greens. If you are going to supplement ensure they are in the correct form, especially the vitamin E as a cheap supplement can cause negative effects.
B vitamins– These are great for those with busy lifestyles. Important for energy production and stress management. Especially vitamin b12 and folate but the B’s work best all together so eating whole foods like eggs, meat, poultry and fish but also whole grains, leafy greens, fruit and nuts. Basically if you eat a varied diet you should get enough B’s but in times of high stress you may need to supplement with a quality B complex vitamin.
Zinc– Zinc is an essential trace element important for most reactions in our bodies. It has also been shown to increase effectiveness of antidepressants. Zinc can be found in oysters, beef and lamb or also in whole grains, chickpeas and cashew nuts.
Protein – lastly it is important we are eating enough high quality proteins, as these are the building blocks for life. This comes from foods like meat but plants also have good protein levels, especially pea or hemp.
The above are all nutrients and foods we can increase to improve our mood. There are also foods to avoid if we want to give our bodies the best chance of vitality.

Caffeine– This is hard for me to say, as I love long blacks. But for those with depression that has anxiety associated with it, it is important to try and limit stimulants such as caffeine.
Alcohol– Again another hard one to say. But we all know the consequences of excess alcohol consumption. I cut alcohol out of my life for 9 months once and the things I learnt about myself were very eye-opening, especially in social situations.
Refined foods – These are high in calories but low in nutrients and usually high in sugar, which can cause a crash and obviously affect a person’s mood. Do I need to say no Big Macs or Wikid Wings?
Processed oils– Like Safflower and corn oil, these are high in omega 6 which can contribute to inflammation – one theory on the cause of depression.
Lastly I want to touch on our gut health. 70% of our feel-good hormone serotonin is made in our gut. This is the gut-brain connection via our microbiome. Increasing fermented foods like low-fat, low sugar yoghurt, Kim-chi and sauerkraut are good for general gut health but if you are taking certain medications or have a poor diet then I highly recommend a strain-specific probiotic that can help grow the number of good bacteria in our gut and help with depressive symptoms. Our microbiome can be improved with a diet that includes all the above nutrients I just talked about.

So to summarise, here are some foods and how many servings you should have to help improve mood. Some people would call this a happy meal:
1. Whole grains – 5 servings a day
2. Veges – 6 servings a day
3. Fruit – 3/day
4. Legumes – 3-4 servings per week
5. Low-fat unsweetened dairy – 2 servings a day
6. Raw nuts – 1 serving a day
7. Fish – at least 2 servings per week
8. Lean red meats – 3 to 4 servings per week
9. Chicken – 2 to 3 servings per week
10. Eggs – maximum of 6 per week
11. Olive/coconut oil – 3 teaspoons per day

And at the very least, please do you best to reduce intake of:
1. Sweets
2. Refined cereals
3. Fried foods
4. Fast food
5. Processed meat
6. Sugary drinks

Thanks for listening, if you have any questions you can add SnapChemist on Snapchat or follow SnapChemist on Facebook or Instagram and send Brendon McIntosh a direct message.

Huge thanks to Brendon for this very informative messsage, Keep following our page as we will bring you more on good healthy diets and lifestyles.