National nutrition month: foods to improve mental wellbeing


by Natalie Tryon, Staff Reporter

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, March happens to be National Nutrition Month. Nutrition is commonly thought of as food that impacts your physical health but is much more than just what you feed your body. It’s feeding your mind too.

Some foods are delicious and provide physical health benefits and provide benefits relating to improving one’s mental health and overall mood. 

Before attending Simpson College, I studied nursing at Luther College, where I took courses related to biology and nutrition and became very interested in how foods can impact our moods.

First of all, it’s important to remember that all foods fit and that everything is good for you in moderation. Just like it’s not recommended to only eat a diet of donuts every day, it’s also not healthy to just eat brussel sprouts. Balance is key.

Five things to add or incorporate into your meals this week to aid in boosting your mood include Omega 3 fatty acids, simple and complex carbohydrates, Folic Acid, vitamin D and Zinc.

Omega 3 fatty acids, commonly found in foods such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, walnuts and chia seeds, are great to add to your daily intake. 

According to Harvard Health, two of the Omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are shown to improve the moods of people with depression. 

One possible explanation for this is that Omega 3’s can easily travel through the brain’s cell membranes and interact with molecules that are associated with mood regulation.

Folate, also known as folic acid or vitamin B9, has been shown to also improve one’s mood. According to Mental Health America, folate is often used to treat depression and has been shown to decrease levels of depression in children and adults. 

Some rich sources of folate include leafy green vegetables (like spinach and brussel sprouts), beans, legumes and whole grains.

Vitamin D is commonly known as the “Sunshine Vitamin” as the sun is an excellent free and natural source of this. Vitamin D plays an important role in mood regulation. Studies have shown that this vitamin correlates to improving one’s mood and decreasing the rate of one’s depression.

Besides soaking up some sunshine, other foods rich in this vitamin are red meats, fish, egg yolk and fortified orange juice.

Carbohydrates often get a negative connotation but are an essential component of one’s diet. This is the preferred fuel source for the human brain and raises people’s serotonin levels naturally. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, it is recommended that 45-65% of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. As always, nutritional needs vary for different individuals, and I encourage you to reach out to a registered dietician for more details.

A few excellent sources of carbohydrates are bread, sweet potatoes, quinoa, fruits, bagels and oatmeal.

Lastly, similar to Folic Acid, Zinc is commonly used to treat individuals with depression. Taking Zinc in addition to an individual’s prescribed antidepressants for Major Depressive Disorder has also been shown to increase the levels of serotonin present. Zinc can be found in oysters, seeds, dairy and nuts.

This National Nutrition Month, nourish your body and mind with some of the foods listed above. Mental health is just as important as physical health. These delicious and nutritious foods provide quality mental and physical health benefits.