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While the discipline of nutritional psychology is still in its infancy, recent clinical trials show that study on food and its impact on mental health is both powerful and potentially very useful. The common opinion is that you should eat real whole foods from nature most of the time to maintain your mental health, with refined and processed foods being consumed in moderation. Are there any foods that can aid with depression in particular, under the scope of mental health?

1. Leafy Greens 

Folate, or vitamin B9, is an important nutrient found in leafy greens that have been demonstrated to help combat depression. Folate aids in the reduction of inflammation, the improvement of cognitive function, and the regulation of gene expression (meaning this nutrient helps to turn certain genes on and off).

They also include vitamin K, which aids in memory enhancement and the prevention of dementia and other neurological illnesses. According to one study, older people who ate one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the cognitive abilities of someone 11 years younger than those who didn't eat any. To boost your mental health, consume at least one serving of leafy greens every day.

2. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet for a reason! Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat rich in health-promoting polyphenols. Because of its high oleic acid content, it has been proven to greatly reduce inflammation (a potential driver of mental health diseases and problems). If at all possible, choose extra-virgin and cold-pressed olive oil, as this is the least processed.

3. Berries 

Berries are especially good for our mental health. One study found that children and young adults who ate one serving of blueberries felt better within two hours after eating them. Berries can also aid to reduce inflammation and increase cell survival, as well as boost neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to establish new connections and pathways when learning and practicing a new skill.

Berry phytochemicals are linked to their neuroprotective properties: Including these vibrant fruits in your daily diet will provide you with the most bang for your money in terms of mental health.

4. Seafood 

Seafood is a nutrient-dense item found in abundance in the Mediterranean diet. Many research, including a meta-analysis published in 2015, shows that eating more fish is linked to a lower risk of depression.

Fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines) are high in DHA and EPA, two vital omega-3 fatty acids for mental health. Trace minerals, which act as cofactors for important enzyme activities like neurotransmitter production, are rich in seafood. If possible, include seafood in your diet one to two times each week to improve your long-term mental health.

The Bottom Line 

Many studies have linked depression to elevated levels of biomarkers that signal inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). These inflammatory metabolites can enter the brain and affect depression's etiology, including neurotransmitter metabolism. This stimulation of inflammatory pathways is thought to contribute to oxidative stress, which leads to neuroinflammation, or inflammation in the brain.

Because of the gut-brain axis, another potential way through which diet influences our mental health is through our gut bacteria. Inside our bellies live millions of different bacteria that have an impact on many facets of our health, including immunological function, mental function, and cardiovascular health.

Our food has the most direct impact on our gut microbiota, accounting for up to 60% of the bacterial variance. Increased intestinal permeability can be caused by dysbiosis or a change in the composition and environment of our gut microbiota. This can allow materials from the gut, such as bacterial metabolites, to enter our bloodstream—a condition known as leaky gut (which is not yet a widely recognized medical condition but is often discussed in the functional medicine community). As these inflammatory chemicals circulate, they may cause further inflammation in the body, adding to neuroinflammation.

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