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When we make a concerted effort to eat a healthier, more wholesome diet, we’re often doing so for a physical reason: to maintain or lose weight, or to minimize health risks. But what if doing so could also have a positive impact on your mental health? Nutritional psychiatry is still a relatively new school of thought, but it refers to the connection nutrition plays in preventing and potentially even helping to minimize symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

If you’re looking for an additional way to boost your mental health, talk with your doctor or mental health professional about making some changes to the foods you’re eating. Here are some things to consider:

Boost Your Tryptophan Levels:
The correlation between the food you eat and the way you feel emotionally has been gaining scientific ground, and some clinicians have started putting these ideas to the test. Research suggests that this mental health connection comes from an unlikely source: the bacteria in our gut. About 95% of your body’s serotonin is made in your gastrointestinal tract. And Serotonin helps your body regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (the building block of proteins) and is required to produce serotonin. These neurotransmitters are thought to produce a stable mood. Tryptophan can be found naturally in seeds, nuts, cheese, oats, and meats.

Try Modifying your Diet:
Studies have compared traditional diets like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet to our “Western” diet and have found that the risk of depression to be 25-35% lower in those who eat one of the traditional diets. Scientists think this may be a result of the diets high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and seafood, and modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.

Listen to Your Body:
Keep track of how your food affects your mood using a journal. If certain foods give you more energy, and keep you going throughout the day, make a note of it. Getting to know your body and what makes it perform at its best is good for your overall health.

Each day we make important choices that impact our mental health. Taking a good look at the food we’re putting into our body and making changes to our eating habits and behaviors can help give our brain the ideal circumstances for a balanced mood.