Mental Health Nutrition: 6 Neurotransmitters to Look for in your Diet

Dixie on May 28, 2020
Mental Health Nutrition: 6 Neurotransmitters to Look for in your Diet

The brain needs nutrients as much as the other organs. 

Even when a person is resting, it runs at a top level of unceasing work. 

It doesn’t stop running: the brain needs fuel to maintain such a demanding task. The fuel it needs comes from the food you eat. 

Nutrients found in food such as amino acids, lipids, vitamins, and minerals are essential to sustaining vital processes. So what you eat affects the well-being of the brain, and in extension — your mental health.

The link between diet and mental health is at the forefront of Nutritional Psychiatry — a growing field that delves into the role of diet in mental health. 

Your diet isn’t only important to your physical health, it has a vital role in your mental well-being too. 

So how do you take advantage of the fact that food can help improve your mental health? Let’s find out first how it affects your mood.

Gut Feelings: How your “second brain” effects mood

The food you eat effects your mood, and the gut-brain connection plays a big role here. 

We often talk about a “gut feeling” when we are clouded with uncertainty and we have to make a call or when faced with a situation that tests our resolve. 

This gut-brain connection isn’t just symbolic; a vast network of neurons and a path of chemicals and hormones link the brain and gut. 

This path gives feedback about how hungry you are, whether you’re experiencing stress, or if you’ve eaten a disease-causing microbe. 

The enteric nervous system — the second brain as scientists call it — informs your mental state in other, more profound ways. 

Hundred million embedded neurons are in the gut. 

Moreover, about 90% of the fibers in the vagus nerve carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around. This indicates that your mental wellbeing may rely on signals from the second brain to the brain inside your skull. 

Neurotransmitter foods for the brain

Earlier, I’ve brought up that chemicals and hormones link the brain and the gut. 

These are the neurotransmitters; the chemical signals passed from one neuron to another neuron or cell. 

Research suggests that the amount of neurotransmitters present in your body plays a factor in some mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. 

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that food is a common source of some nutrients that affect neurotransmitters and can aid certain illnesses. 

Here is a list of neurotransmitter boosting foods:

1. Serotonin

Serotonin is responsible for regulating your mood. 

Research has found that people with depression often have low levels of serotonin. 

Serotonin deficiency has also been linked to anxiety and insomnia.  

Also pay attention to foods rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted to serotonin once it reaches your brain.

2. Dopamine

Dopamine plays an essential role in humans for the coordination of body movements, motivation, and reward.  

One amino acid, called tyrosine, will raise the production of dopamine. 

Eating foods rich in protein helps boost dopamine.

3. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. 

It produces a calming effect once it reaches your brain. This can help with feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear. It may also help to prevent seizures. 

4. Glutamate 

This is a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for memory, emotions, and cognition.

It’s also involved in multiple psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. 

To boost your glutamate levels, pay attention to foods naturally occurring with glutamic acid. 

5. Acetylcholine

Acetylcholine plays a role in learning and processing memory. 

Having low levels of acetylcholine is linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Below is a table summarizing the food sources that you need to avoid having deficiencies in the mentioned neurotransmitters above.

Dietary NeurotransmitterFoods and Botanicals
AcetylcholineAubergine, bitter orange, common bean, foxglove, mistletoe, mung bean, nettle species, pea, radish, spinach, squash, wild strawberry.
GlutamateCaviar, cheese, crackling, chips, dried cod, fermented beans, fish sauces, gravies, instant coffee powder, meats, miso, mushrooms, noodle dishes, oyster sauce, Parmesan cheese, ready-to-eat meals, salami, savory snacks, seafood, seaweeds, soups, soy sauces, spinach, stews, tomato, tomato sauce.
GABAAdzuki bean, barley, broccoli, buckwheat, chestnut, common bean, kale, lupin, maypop, mouse-ear hawkweed, oat, pea, poke root, potato, rice, shiitake, soya bean, spinach, St John’s wort, sweet potato, tea, tomato, valerian, wheat, wild celery.
DopamineAubergine, avocado, banana, common bean, apple, orange, pea, plantain, spinach, tomato, velvet bean, fish, poultry, meat.
SerotoninBananas, chicory, Chinese cabbage, coffee powders, green coffee bean, green onion, hazelnut, kiwi, lettuce, nettle, Griffonia simplicifolia, paprika, passion fruit, pawpaw, pepper, pineapple, plantain, plum, pomegranate, potato, spinach, strawberry, tomato, velvet bean, wild rice.

Nutritional Psychiatry and Diet

From now on, you must pay attention to the food you eat, most especially to the macronutrients and micronutrients it contains. 

Observe how eating certain foods make you feel. This doesn’t mean you have to abstain from eating certain foods, just see to it that you take everything in moderation. 

It’s all about having a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Why choose Willow Place for Women?

Willow Place for Women is a women’s only outpatient eating disorder, trauma, and substance abuse treatment facility. 

During this pandemic, we are still working to provide support for women who need our help across the globe. 

We offer online treatment for your mental health nutrition during this uncertain time of the COVID-19 virus. 

Contact us today to tell us about what you’re dealing with. 828-707-6084

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If you or someone you love is battling a severe chemical dependency, an eating disorder, or both, please feel free to contact one of our trained addiction specialists today. All calls are free and completely confidential. While we know that suffering from a severe and life-threatening substance dependency can, at times, seem insurmountable, we sincerely believe that every woman is capable and deserving of the opportunity to recover. Reaching out is the first step – give us a call today, and we will gladly walk you through the process of beginning your beautiful, fulfilling journey of addiction recovery.

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