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5 Nutrients for Mental Health: how to fuel a sense of wellbeing

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

You may have heard about the silent “Pandemic” that’s happening right now… Mental Health.

Enduring the global COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges: financial stress, social isolation, unemployment, prolonged separation from family and friends, working from home, and remote schooling. Adapting to these challenges has left us in a state of stressful uncertainty. The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines this condition as one that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood with an impact on day-to-day living and the ability to relate to others1.

There are many strategies to improve our overall mental health, like counseling, meditation, sleep, exercise and sometimes prescribed medications.  But, there is another strategy that is often overlooked, and can be implemented almost immediately… what you eat. To supply our brains with the “premium fuel” for the best chances of improving our mental wellbeing, here are 5 foods that we can give our bodies2: 

Top 5 Nutrients That Can Promote Mental Wellbeing

Vitamin B3:

Many B vitamins are responsible for the metabolism of other nutrients you consume and play a role in your neural brain function3. Research demonstrates a direct link between vitamin B intake and decreased risk of depression4. Niacin, also known as Vitamin B3, helps to break down an amino acid, tryptophan into the neurotransmitter Serotonin, which regulates mood5.

Nutrient #2: Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in the brain and help modulate the way our brain neurons communicate. Getting enough of this nutrient can be protective against symptoms of depression6. Studies show a strong association between increased chance of mental illness and low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in a person’s diet. Several other studies indicate reduced symptoms of depression when supplemented with omega-3 fats6.

Omega 3’s work by impacting the function of our neurological system through serotonin and dopamine, two hormones that play a critical role in mental illness. The National Institute of Health suggests that individuals who consume more omega-3’s are at a lower risk of developing problems related to cognitive function7. Major depression is also associated with the inflammatory process; Omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory actions7.

Omega-3 rich foods include:

  1. Fish such as salmon and tuna,

  2. Nuts

  3. Walnuts

  4. Flaxseeds

  5. Avocado

  6. Fish oil

Nutrient #3: Antioxidants

Antioxidants are critical in reducing free radicals within the body produced by oxidative stress. These free radicals may play an important role in depression8. Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables do a fantastic job acting like a vacuum cleaner to readily dispose of the unneeded free radicals throughout the body. Individuals with depression have lower levels of antioxidant concentrations and elevated oxidative stress. Consuming adequate amounts of antioxidants daily helps eliminate free radicals that could be contributing to a poor state of mental health.

Antioxidant rich foods include:

  1. Blueberries

  2. Strawberries

  3. Kale

  4. Raspberries

  5. artichoke

Nutrient #4: Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the main minerals found in the body that is responsible for biochemical reactions9. Several studies suggest that higher intake of magnesium could reduce the risk of depression. Magnesium is highly involved in brain pathways, and low levels of this nutrient are associated with risk for depression10. Magnesium affects neurotransmission pathways in our brain that are associated with depression. Clinical studies have highlighted magnesium’s positive effect on improving mood9. Additionally, Magnesium has been shown to enhance antidepressant effects.11

Magnesium rich foods include:

  1. Dark chocolate

  2. Avocados

  3. Nuts

  4. Tofu

  5. legumes

Nutrient #5: Folic Acid

Folic Acid is a B vitamin, (B9). Studies have shown that persons diagnosed with depression tend to have low levels of folic acid12. Low Folic acid levels are linked to may even improve the effects of certain antidepressant medication.12 Additionally, treatment of folic acid is shown to improve response of antidepressants.12

Folic Acid Rich Foods Include:

  1. Dark leafy greens

  2. Chickpeas

  3. Kidney beans

  4. Fortified breakfast cereals

  5. strawberries

Resources: If you are in crisis, get immediate help:

  1. Call 911

  2. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat

  3. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522

  4. National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453

  5. National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or Online Chat 

  6. Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Chat: 8388255

  7. Disaster Distress Helpline: CALL or TEXT 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish).

  8. The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116 – TTY Instructions


1. Mental health conditions. National Alliance on Mental Illness Website. Updated 2021. Accessed Mar 3, 2021.

2. Selhub E. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Publishing Web site. . Updated 2015. Accessed “March 1, “, 2021.

3. Legg T. Niacin deficiency . Healthline Website. Accessed March 4, 2021.

4. Mikkelsen K, Stojanovksa L, Apostolopoulos V. The effects of VItamin B in depression. Curr Med Chem. ;23(38):4317-4337. 10.2174/0929867323666160920110810.

5. Tsujita N, Akamatsu Y, Nishida M. Effects of tryptophan, vitamin B6, and nicotinamide-containing supplement loading between meals on mood and autonomic nervous system activity in young adults with subclinical depression: A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study. J Nutr Sci VItaminol. ;65(6):507-514. 10.3177/jnsv.65.507.

6. Ross B, Seguin J, Sieswerda L. Omega-3 fatty acids as treatments for mental illness: Which disorder and which fatty acid? . . 2007;6(21).

7. Omega-3 fatty acids. National Institute of Health Website. Updated 2020.

8. Scapagnini G, Davinelli S, Drago F. Antioxidants as antidepressants: Fact or fiction? . . 2012;26(6):477-90. 10.2165/11633190-000000000-00000.

9. Serefko A, Szopa A, Poleszak E. Magnesium and depression. . 2016;29(3). 10.1684/mrh.2016.0407.

10. Spritzler F. 10 evidence-based health benefits of magnesium. Healthline Website. Updated 2018. Accessed “Mar 3, “, 2021.

11. Szewczyk B, Azopa A, Serefko A. The role of magnesium and zinc in depression: Similarities and differences. . 2018;31(3):78-89. 0.1684/mrh.2018.0442.

12. Coppen A, Gouaille C. Treatment of depression: Time to consider folic acid and B12. J Psychopharmacol. ;19(1):59-65. 10.1177/0269881105048899.

13. Abdelmaksoud A, Vojvodic A. Depression, isotretinoin, and folic acid: A practical review. Dermatol Ther. ;32(6). 10.1111/dth.13104.

14. Gonzalez M, Villegas A. Magnesium intake and depression: The SUN cohort. Magnes Res. 2016;29(3):102-111. 0.1684/mrh.2016.0409.

15. Vavakova M, Durackova Z, Trabaticka J. Markers of oxidative stress of neuroprogression in depression disorder. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015. 10.1155/2015/898393.


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