Food is fuel, we all know this already. What if I told you that everything you eat directly affects your emotional and mental health? What if I told you that food can be psychiatric medicine? I’m not a registered dietitian, but I have been fortunate to spend the last three years of my academic career studying nutrition and mental health. It may sound simple, but what you consume in a day is completely in your control. No, eating an apple won’t magically bring you a 4.0 GPA or a Tesla. However, making balanced, nutritious choices in your daily life will definitely improve your overall worldview. So, let’s talk food…
When I began researching nutrition in 2018, I began the process by breaking down daily food into its smallest parts. We all know we “should” eat vegetables, but what is asparagus actually doing for me other than making my pee smell? I learned that nutritious foods can be broken down into vitamins and minerals. The three most beneficial vitamins for brain health are: Vitamin B6, B12, and E. All three improve overall cognition and mood. They can all be found in everyday foods that are probably in your diet already. If not, they are easy to incorporate.
Vitamin B6 is a badass vitamin. I like to think of B6 as the balance beam of vitamins because it functions to level multiple systems in the body. B6 is famous for regulating glucose levels in the blood. When you go for that soft serve (as you should!), B6 will balance out your body from that sugar spike. B6 is powerful when it comes to memory and can improve your ability to remember information for tests or to remember to text someone back. Additionally, B6 is great for mood stabilization. It can be found in salmon, turkey, avocado, and potatoes.
Vitamin B12 is your go-to for energy. B12 is the perfect solution for increased energy during the day and improved endurance for athletics. It is the perfect boost to help you make it through the day! B12 also has properties that improve brain function; it has anti-inflammatory properties, proven to reduce inflammation in the brain. Eva Selhub MD, from Harvard Medical School, states that inflammation in the brain can aggravate mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. It is in your best interest to incorporate anti-inflammatory vitamins into your body whenever possible. B12 can be found in many animal products: fish, turkey, eggs, etc. However, it is available as a supplement for my plant-based friends!
Vitamin E is the final brain booster I’m going to discuss. Similar to Vitamin C, Vitamin E is an immune system stimulant. E can help the body fight off germs and viruses, Hey COVID!! This vitamin is beneficial to mental and emotional health. Vitamin E has been proven to work alongside pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medication, providing mood stabilization. Vitamin E can improve the quality of your thoughts, keeping you feeling bright throughout the day. E can be found in olive oil, almonds, and blueberries (just to name a few).
Obviously, these are only three essential nutrients and there are many others to explore. Food is more powerful than we give it credit for. We can use the healing benefits of food to improve our mental health. I know it’s not easy, but these are small steps we can take to improve the day-to-day. That being said, it’s all about balance. So, after dinner, go for the soft-serve. You deserve it!
Vitamin B6: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002402.htm.
Vitamin E: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-Consumer/
Vitamin B12: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/
Selhub, Eva. “Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard University Medical School, 5 Apr. 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626.
“Food and Mood: Is There a Connection?” Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard University Medical School, June 2018