Optimal - The Blog

December 3, 2022

Support Your Mental Health with Lifestyle and Nutrition

According to the World Health Organization:

“Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development.”

Our mental health is as important to our well-being as our physical health is. Stress, poor nutrition, and lifestyle have significant effects on mental health. 

Fortunately, these are all modifiable risk factors, meaning we can control them and change them at will. Stress management, lifestyle habits, and nutrition choices can all be tweaked to maximize their benefits on mental health. The naturopathic approach to health and well-being, including mental health, integrates evidence-based diet and lifestyle counseling as well as mind-body based therapies support mental, physical, and spiritual health (Sadowski 2022).


Prolonged, chronic stress can literally impair your mental health as it forces you to focus on fighting or fleeing, eventually leading to “burnout” and exhaustion. It is especially important to:

  • Recognize your stressors
  • Have a plan for coping with potential stressors
  • Adopt daily habits that can fend off stress, including deep breathing, walks in nature, and quiet time


Key components of a healthy lifestyle include (Walsh 2011):

  • Regular exercise as well as enjoyable recreational activities
  • Adopting a healthy diet with supplements to fill in the gaps
  • Communing with nature
  • Avoiding excess media exposure
  • Maintaining healthy relationships
  • Relaxation and stress management
  • Community, social, and spiritual connections
  • Restful and adequate sleep is also essential to mental health!
  • Avoid excess alcohol, and don't smoke!

Diet and Nutrition

Diet is a major factor in our mental health and affects our brains in many ways. The more we eat a Western-style diet high in nutritionally depleted processed foods, the more we put ourselves at risk for anxiety, depression, and even dementia (Owen 2017). 

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, are especially important to brain health. The Omega-3 Index test is an excellent way to check your omega-3 status. A low Omega-3 Index is associated with an increase in depressive symptoms, especially in those with elevated markers of oxidative stress (Bigornia 2016). Increased intake or supplementation with omega-3 fatty EPA has significant benefits in depression, especially in individuals presenting with markers of inflammation (Firth 2019).  

B vitamins play an especially important role in brain and mental health. They help turn food into energy, including energy for the brain. Antioxidants are important for brain health as well. Healthy sources include foods high in vitamins A, C, and E, along with fresh fruits and vegetables that are filled with antioxidant phytonutrients.

A Mediterranean-style diet is a good choice for improving and supporting mental health. This healthier dietary pattern includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes; moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy products; and limits red meat to “occasionally” instead of meat being the center of the diet (Firth June 2020). Consuming foods from "healthy food groups" including fruits, vegetables, and fish, is associated with a significantly decreased risk of depression (Firth 2020).

Adequate protein is especially important to the brain and mental health. Protein provides amino acids, which are the building blocks of cells, tissues, and organs. They are also the building blocks of neurotransmitters, the compounds that regulate our mood and behavior. Adults, especially older adults, should get 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome (the community of good bacteria in your GI tract) is also important to maintaining mental health (Glenn 2019). Try fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and active culture cheeses.

Some of the most common insufficiencies that can be addressed with nutrition intervention include (Lakhan 2008).

  • Choline
  • GABA
  • Glycine
  • Lithium
  • Magnesium
  • Melatonin
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Phenylalanine
  • Phosphatidyl serine
  • S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAM)
  • St. John’s wort
  • Tryptophan
  • Tyrosine
  • Vitamins B6, B12, folate
  • Vitamin C

Ultimately, the saying "You are what you eat" applies to mental health as well as physical health. Eat a vibrant, healthy diet full of colorful plant-based foods, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids to support brain health. Your mind and mood will thank you!



Source: Serra-Majem, Lluís et al. “Updating the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid towards Sustainability: Focus on Environmental Concerns.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,23 8758. 25 Nov. 2020, doi:10.3390/ijerph17238758. This article is an open-access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ([R]).

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Baghai, Thomas C et al. “Major depressive disorder is associated with cardiovascular risk factors and low Omega-3 Index.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 72,9 (2011): 1242-7. doi:10.4088/JCP.09m05895blu 

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Lakhan, Shaheen E, and Karen F Vieira. “Nutritional therapies for mental disorders.” Nutrition journal vol. 7 2. 21 Jan. 2008, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-7-2 

Lim, So Young et al. “Nutritional Factors Affecting Mental Health.” Clinical nutrition research vol. 5,3 (2016): 143-52. doi:10.7762/cnr.2016.5.3.143

Owen, Lauren, and Bernard Corfe. “The role of diet and nutrition on mental health and wellbeing.” The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society vol. 76,4 (2017): 425-426. doi:10.1017/S0029665117001057 

Rucklidge, Julia J., Jeanette M. Johnstone, and Bonnie J. Kaplan. "Nutrition provides the essential foundation for optimizing mental health." Evidence-Based Practice in Child and Adolescent Mental Health 6.1 (2021): 131-154. 

Sadowski, Adam et al. “Naturopathic Doctors: An Underutilized Resource of Whole Health Delivery in Primary Care.” Global advances in health and medicine vol. 11 2164957X221079787. 22 Feb. 2022, doi:10.1177/2164957X221079787

Serra-Majem, Lluís et al. “Updating the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid towards Sustainability: Focus on Environmental Concerns.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,23 8758. 25 Nov. 2020, doi:10.3390/ijerph17238758.  

Walsh, Roger. “Lifestyle and mental health.” The American psychologist vol. 66,7 (2011): 579-92. doi:10.1037/a0021769

World Health Organization. Mental Health: Strengthening our Response.  

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