Nutrition and Recovery

Nutrition plays an important role in recovery from mental illnesses. Certain foods contain key ingredients, such as amino acids, that are essential for brain function. For example, depression is often associated with low levels of a natural chemical in the brain called serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan, an amino acid and building block for proteins, can improve symptoms of depression by restoring serotonin levels. Eggs, cheeses and nuts are all good sources of tryptophan. While nutrition is not a replacement for professional treatment, some foods or supplements may help reduce symptoms.

Many common diets call for restrictions on carbohydrates but this can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. Carbohydrates are important for both generating energy in the body and increasing the availability of tryptophan for serotonin production in the brain. Complex carbohydrates are the most beneficial and come from sources such as whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal and sweet potatoes.

Protein intake can also have an impact on mental health. We frequently associate protein with building muscles but proteins are also important for creating many of the natural chemicals in the brain that affect mood and concentration. For example, proteins increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that plays a role in attention, motivation and concentration. A wide variety of foods have high levels of proteins including Greek yogurt, chicken and beans.

Recently, research has been conducted on the role omega-3 could play in recovery. Omega-3 is a fatty acid found in many types of fish, plants and nut oils. These fatty acids can improve mood and memory and are important for overall brain function as well. Several studies have also linked omega-3 fatty acids to decreased depression and anxiety.

While more research is certainly needed in this area, incorporating specific foods into your day can be a key step on the road to recovery.