The Role of Diet in Mental Health

Healthy body, healthy mind! Your brain is an organ, and just like any other, it needs proper nutrition to work optimally. Diet is an important factor in mental health that is often overlooked. Obviously eat your veggies and avoid processed food. But more specifically, below I have outlined some nutrients, their sources, and their benefits on mental health.

B vitamins

Vitamins B6 and B12 are used to produce neurotransmitters. B6 prevents cognitive decline and low levels are linked with depression. B12 deficiency is associated with memory loss, depression, and cognitive dysfunction. Higher serum levels of B12 may be associated with better treatment outcomes in antidepressant therapy. Sources of B6 include chickpeas, meat, fish, bananas, and potatoes. B12 can be obtained from meat, cheese, and fortified cereals.


Individuals with low folate levels have a lower treatment response to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants), and supplementation of folate can enhance antidepressant therapy. 40% of women in America have inadequate intake of folate from food sources. Good sources of folate are spinach and other leafy vegetables, orange juice, legumes, and whole grains. A gene that predisposes you to folate deficiency also increases risk for depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.


Low iron may alter neurotransmitter synthesis and function. Symptoms of iron deficiency are fatigue, apathy, and poor concentration. Iron supplementation improved postpartum depressive symptoms. Sources include fortified breakfast cereals, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, and spinach.


Zinc deficiency is associated with behavioral and sleep disturbances, loss of sex drive, depression, and a variety of other mental health problems, especially with at-risk populations. Supplementation has been shown to help with these symptoms. Oysters, nuts, peas, meat products, eggs, whole wheat grains, oats, and pumpkin seeds are rich sources of zinc


Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include agitation and anxiety, irritability, restless legs syndrome, sleep disorders, and depression. Magnesium is found in unrefined grains, nuts, kiwis, and green vegetables.


Chromium supplementation has been shown to help with depression, particularly atypical depression that causes hypersomnia, excessive eating with weight gain, intense reaction or sensitivity to rejection, and a feeling of being weighed down. Sources include broccoli, grape juice, potatoes, and garlic.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D may help with executive functioning, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Vitamin D is produced naturally with exposure to sunlight, but if you’re not sunbathing regularly, you can get it from seafood, eggs, mushrooms, or fortified foods

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Aside from their physical benefits on inflammation and heart disease risk, omega 3 fatty acids can fight both unipolar and bipolar depression. ALA is an omega 3 that cannot be produced by the body and therefore must come from food. Sources include flaxseeds, canola, soy, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Another two that have shown benefits are DHA and EPA, or fish oil. Salmon and sardines are packed with these. If you don’t like fish and want to supplement instead, make sure your fish oil contains at least 1000 mg of both EPA and DHA! Many don’t have sufficient levels for health benefits. EPA and DHA regulate neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

Dog Low, M. (2010). THE ROLE OF NUTRITION IN MENTAL HEALTH. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 16(2), 42-6. Retrieved from
Raju, M. S. V. K. (2017). Medical nutrition in mental health and disorders. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 59(2) doi: