Nutrition is described as the biochemical process through which humans receive the vital nutrients needed for health and growth from food. A healthy diet also assists us to nourish and sustain life. Getting sufficient nutrition from the meals we eat is important in a variety of ways that support our general health. These include immune system strengthening, better newborn, child, and mother health, safe pregnancy and childbirth, longevity, and a lower chance of metabolic illnesses such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

Recent research has revealed a link between nutrition and our mental health. Depression and anxiety have been linked to ultra-processed meals such as sweets, soda, and chips, to name a few. These foods often contain a lot of calories, sugar, and fat, as well as chemicals and preservatives. A diet high in these foods has been demonstrated to enhance anxious and depressive feelings. A diet high in ultra-processed foods rather than a well-balanced diet can lead to vitamin deficiencies.

A brief overview on nutrient deficiencies and mental health disorders:

  • Vitamin B6 has been connected as a probable predictor of depression severity and risk. Research is limited.
  • Low folate levels have been related to an increased risk of developing depression.
  • Depression, irritability, agitation, psychosis, and compulsive behaviors can all result from a B12 shortage.
  • Vitamin C levels have been found to be decreased in schizophrenic patients.

Serotonin (mood stabilizer):

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, produces serotonin. The body must first convert tryptophan to niacin before it can be turned to serotonin. Serotonin synthesis requires vitamin B6, B12, and iron. A low tryptophan diet can lower brain serotonin levels. People with mood disorders (depression, anxiety) have been shown to have low tryptophan levels. Serotonin synthesis is boosted by exercise and sunlight.

Foods high in Tryptophan:

Chicken, eggs, cheese, peanuts, turkey, tofu, fish, pumpkin and sesame seeds

Foods high in Vitamin B6:

Beef liver, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, green veggies, bananas, papaya, oranges, chicken, cantaloupe

Foods high in Vitamin B12:

Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fortified cereals

Foods high in Iron:

Red meat, poultry, seafood, green leafy vegetables, beans, fortified cereals

Eating tryptophan containing foods with carbohydrates will promote the release of insulin in the blood. The insulin will then put other proteins from the meal into the cells which is desirable because they compete with tryptophan to get to the brain. This leaves tryptophan with less competition to get to the brain and produce serotonin. The gut produces most of the body’s serotonin. The microbiota is the 100 trillion microorganisms in the human digestive tract (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa). It affects our immunity, appetite, and energy levels, as well as our gut health. It also helps digestion and nutrient availability by fermenting and easing digestion of specific foods. The microbiota makes neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA (GABA). The gut’s serotonin has the same effects as the brain’s serotonin. Keeping the microbiome healthy can help maintain neurotransmitter production. Probiotic foods and fiber-rich diets help the intestines grow new bacteria.

Fiber containing foods:

Black beans, lima beans, avacados, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pears, figs

Probiotic containing foods:

Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir, yogurt

Trans fats promote inflammation and decrease serotonin synthesis. Eating tryptophan-rich foods without carbs can reduce serotonin production in the brain. Dietary deficiencies of B vitamins can also impair serotonin synthesis. Finally, a diet deficient in fiber and fermented foods can reduce serotonin production.

What is Vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that is easily absorbed. It aids in several metabolic processes and is vital for brain development. It aids in the production of neurotransmitters and in immunological function.

How to increase Vitamin B6 levels?

Vitamin B6 is digested and is taken up by the liver and muscles for storage and carried around the blood by albumin.

What is Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 aids in nutrition metabolism, energy production, and DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 is required for regular red blood cell formation. Vitamin B12 absorption is more difficult than other vitamins and takes 3-4 hours. Vitamin B12 is absorbed and then stored in the liver.

Dietary sources of Vitamin B12:

Milk and whole milk cheeses, beef, poultry, shellfish, and eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, non-dairy milk and supplement capsules.

What is Folate?

Folate (vitamin B9) is a B vitamin required for DNA synthesis, cell division, and general growth. This vitamin is naturally present in foods.

What is folic acid?

Unlike folate, folic acid is not found in foods. Synthetic folate is added to meals, especially breakfast cereals, fortified grains, and supplements. It was intended to help avoid frequent neural tube abnormalities in the US.

How to get more Folate or Folic Acid:

Dietary folate sources are abundant. Some examples include: beef liver, spinach, lettuce, asparagus, brussel sprouts, oranges, bananas, lemon, melons, nuts, beans, peas.

Folic acid is added to different processed food products including: fortified cereals, breads, pastas, and rice, dietary supplements.

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