Expert Nutritional Therapist Julie Pichler from Vagus Wellbeing shares her insight into how food supports your mental health 
Nutrition for mental health 
It turns out that old saying, “you are what you eat,” was right! Did you know that nutrition 
plays a key role in our mental health? 
Nutrition affects our brain chemistry, which in turn affects our mood, memory and 
concentration. We now know that diet alone can reverse depression, which doesn’t 
look to belittle social and environmental issues such as stress, work pressures, 
bereavement and illness, but rather goes to show that there’s so much more involved 
than a chemical imbalance in our brains. 
You may have heard of serotonin, which is known as our ‘happy’ neurotransmitter, along 
with dopamine which is associated with reward and pleasure. It’s been traditionally 
thought that a shortage in these chemicals can make us feel down, but we now know 
that the whole body is involved in making these substances, not least our gut. 
Our digestive tract hosts our second brain, home to over 100 million nerve cells, which 
makes intuitive sense in terms of feeling butterflies when we’re nervous, or having an 
upset stomach when we’re stressed. There is an orchestra of nerve, immune and 
hormonal signals all communicating with each other, and letting the brain know the lay 
of the land. 
Our food choices directly affect our brain function and how we feel, because it provides 
the building blocks for all of our cells and tissues. Food can be friend or foe, what we 
eat and drink being our biggest interface with the outside world, so a big part of our 
immune system is also present in our digestive tract, looking out for bacteria and 
viruses such as those which cause food poisoning, to keep us healthy. When we 
become sick, the immune system response invokes us to feel like retreating (to avoid 
infecting others) keeping warm and resting (to conserve energy), often behaviours 
which can resemble depression. 
Many nutrients are needed for good brain function and positive mood, such as B 
vitamins, magnesium, Omega 3 and zinc. If we don’t fuel properly, we can be prone to 
low mood, concentration, or anxiety. Our gut bacteria also need feeding through our 
fruits and vegetables and fibres such as beans and lentils to keep us healthy, and 
making vitamins themselves. Trials are beginning to show that live bacteria (prebiotics) 
can influence our mood, showing promise as a source of treatment for mental health 
conditions in the future. 
So, what is best to eat? 
No single food is the magic bullet, but incorporating variety from these food groups on a 
regular basis, will help increase your friendly bacteria, reduce inflammation and promote 
neurotransmitter balance: 
1. Fish and Seafood 
.Our grandparents intuitively knew that fish was good for the brain, and it's true. Omega 
3 fats, particularly found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel, 
stimulate the brain to grow and change, and help to reduce levels of inflammation. 
Seafood such as clams, mussels, scallops and oysters are also rich in zinc which help 
ensure efficient neurotransmitter messages from one brain cell to another, and also a 
key nutrient in a well-functioning immune system. 
2. Chickpeas 
Chickpeas are a great source of B6, needed to convert our food into energy, support the 
blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain, as well as make neurotransmitters. They 
contain the essential amino-acid tryptophan supporting the sleep hormone melatonin. 
Low B6 can result in trouble concentrating, nervousness, irritability and sadness. 
3. Nuts and seeds 
Almonds, cashews and brazil nuts are a great source of magnesium, the ‘calming 
mineral’, with a deficiency shown to contribute to low mood. Flax, pumpkin and chia 
seeds sprinkled on oats or salads are also a great choice. 
4. Dark green leafy vegetables 
Spinach, sprouts, asparagus, cabbage and kale are your ‘go to’ for folate, the natural 
form of folic acid you may have heard given to pregnant women to support brain and 
spinal cord development in babies. Well, it's just as beneficial for adult brains with low 
levels of folate linked to depression and low energy. 
5. Fermented foods 
Foods such as kimchi, kombucha, miso, kefir and sauerkraut are not only in trend, but 
are chock full of probiotics (live bacteria) which support the friendly strains of bacteria in 
our gut. Increasing the diversity of our bacterial strains has such positive effects on our 
overall health, the brain is just one organ to benefit. 
So, next time you’re doing your food shop, save this list of 5 food groups to your phone 
and see what new food you can pick up, to give your brain a boost. 
For more experet advice please visit Julie on her website 
Questions, or comments? I'm here to help. You can leave a comment or query below, or contact us if you want a confidential conversation. 
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