Food affects mental health

By Zahra Tromsness

One in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness, but many may not be aware of the relationship between the food choices we make and our mood.

The proper balance of nutrients can help to build essential brain chemicals, which regulate mood, and prevent damage to the brain, which impacts memory and thinking. This Nutrition Month, I’m highlighting some of the key nutrients in food to help your brain function at its best.


Did you know that B-vitamins, including Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6), Folate (B9), and the well-known vitamin B12, play a significant role in various brain functions?

B-vitamins help to produce energy, repair and build DNA, as well as create neurotransmitters, which regulate mood. To meet your daily requirements, try incorporating a variety of whole grains, leafy vegetables, fish, eggs, poultry, meat, and legumes to your diet.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, consider speaking to your doctor or a dietitian about taking a B12 supplement.

Vitamin D

In Canada, it’s very difficult to get enough vitamin D through sunlight for most of our seasons, even when adding the limited food sources of vitamin D (such as oily fish, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods) to our diet.

In fact, Health Canada recommends a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU if you are over 50 years old.

The sunshine vitamin is not only important for bone health but plays a role in brain development and function. A deficiency in vitamin D has been linked with dementia, schizophrenia, depression, and autism.

Talk to a health care professional or dietitian about if you may benefit from more vitamin D in your diet or a vitamin D3 supplement.


Did you know that Omega-3 fats are important for normal brain development and function? Omega-3 fats and their subtypes EPA and DHA are an essential component of cell membranes and may help to reduce inflammation.

These healthy fats have also been shown to influence your gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis, which play an important role in mental health and wellbeing.

They are mostly found in fatty fish and seafood including mackerel, salmon, anchovies, trout, herring, sardines, fortified eggs and vegetable sources including kelp and seaweed (wakame).

Don’t like fish? Omega3 fat ALA can be found in nuts and seeds, plant oils and soy products.

Probiotics and fibre

It’s no secret that there is a connection between our gut and our brain. Increasing research points toward the bidirectional gut microbiota-brain axis playing a role in our mental health.

We can support a healthy gut by feeding its microbes the foods they like, including whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of fermented foods such as fortified yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

As your local Your Independent Grocer registered dietitian in Kelowna, I am here to help you reach your nutritional goals. Whether you’re looking to support your mental health, general wellness or other concerns through healthy eating, dietitians such as myself provide a range of services to help. To learn more, visit yourindependentgrocer.ca/dietitians.


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