Nutrition plays a role in the prevention and treatment of mental disorders. A traditional whole-food diet, consisting of higher intakes of foods such as vegetables, fruits, seafood, whole grains, lean meat, nuts, and legumes, with avoidance of processed foods, is more likely to provide the nutrients that promote resiliency against the development of mental disorders.
The brain requires a lot of energy to operate optimally, and as such it relies on amino acids, fats, vitamins, and minerals or trace elements. The functioning of the immune system is also reliant on dietary intakes. For example, the antioxidant defense system, which is also implicated in mental disorders, operates with the support of nutrient cofactors and phytochemicals
Convincing data suggest that select nutrient-based supplements (in isolation, or in combination) might provide many neurochemical modulatory activities that are beneficial in the management of mental disorders.
These are omega-3 fatty acids, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), zinc, B vitamins (including folic acid), and vitamin D. Particularly, key nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc regulate stress responses via involvement in the production and metabolism of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. However, chronic stress may decrease synthesis of neurotransmitters, which in turn may increase the risk of severe anxiety.
In addition, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc are involved in the conversion of α-linolenic acid to longer-chain n-3 fatty acids; n-3 fatty acids are associated with lower risk of anxiety. For example, several studies support the potential usefulness of omega-3 fatty acids for post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
Furthermore, there is an accumulation of evidence in favor of specific diets for the protection and relief of anxiety. Specifically, traditional dietary patterns in Australia (vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains), China (gruel, oatmeal, whole grains, fresh yellow or red vegetables, fruit, and soy milk), the Mediterranean and the anti-inflammatory diet have been associated with a lower risk for anxiety disorders.
For example, a diet that includes vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, fish, and whole-grain foods has been related to a lower risk of a diagnosis of anxiety, while a western-type diet characterized by consumption of foods such as meats and sugar has been associated with more psychiatric symptoms.
In conclusion, there is evidence of an association between healthy eating patterns and reduced anxiety symptoms. As long as there are no food allergies to speak of, interventions focused on diets in the treatment of anxiety are considered low in risk and have beneficial effects beyond anxiety relief. It is important to add that nutritional counseling is not currently part of standard procedure for the treatment of anxiety disorders, and therefore it will be your decision to pursue that option or not.
- Daily consumption:
- Non-refined cereals and products (whole grain bread, pasta, brown rice, etc.), vegetables (2–3 servings/day), fruits (6 servings/day), olive oil (as the main added lipid) and dairy products (1–2 servings/day)
- Weekly consumption:
- Fish (4–5 servings/week), poultry (3–4 servings/week), olives, pulses, and nuts (3 servings/week), potatoes, eggs and sweets (3–4 servings/week)
- Monthly consumption:
- red meat and meat products (4–5 servings/month).
- Daily consumption:
- 50–150 g of whole grains and mixed beans and 50–100 g of potatoes
- 300 to 500g of vegetables. Dark vegetables, including spinach, tomato, purple cabbage, pak choy, broccoli, and eggplant, should account for half this amount and should appear in every meal.
- 200 to 350g of fruits
- Weekly consumption:
- 280 to 525g of fish
- 280 to 525 g of poultry
- 280 to 350 g of eggs with an accumulated daily intake of 120–200 g on average
- Limited daily consumption:
- 6 g of salt and 25–30 g of cooking oil
- less than 50 g, or preferably less than 25 g of daily sugar
- less fat and fewer smoked and cured meat products should be eaten.
- Vegetables & Fruits
- • Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
- • Consider organic when possible
- • Eat in-season whole fruits
- • Limit Juice intake (1/2 cup per day)
- • All berries are SUPER foods!
- • include all squashes & sweet potatoes
- Other Carbohydrates
- • Whole and cracked grains (you should be able to see the grains—limit foods made from any grain flours)
- • Pastas (Occasional; cook al dente, just until tender)
- • Add vinegar to dishes, it lowers glycemic load.
- • Include soy in the forms of edamame, tofu, and tempeh
- • Beans, lentils, quinoa and barley will help you feel full!
- • Omega-3 (from fish, flax or chia seeds)
- • Raw unroasted nuts & seeds & nut butters
- • Extra virgin olive oil or other unrefined oils
- • Avocados
- Proteins (limit servings of animal products)
- • Choose fish rich in omega-3 fats, including wild Alaskan salmon, herring, sardines and black cod
- • Grass fed animals & dairy
- • Legumes (Anasazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas & lentils)
- • Almonds and Walnuts (raw is better than roasted)
- • Asian mushrooms (maitake, shitake, wild)
- • High quality dairy & eggs & cheese
- Spices, Beverages, & Sweets
- • Season food with turmeric, curry powder, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, cinnamon, and other herbs & spices.
- • Tea is a great alternative for coffee (green, oolong or black tea)
- • Limited alcohol intake.
- • Dark chocolate (minimum cocoa content of 70%)
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*anxiolytic: reduce anxiety
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