May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. One of the factors that are often overlooked that can play an important role in our mental health is diet.

Healthy eating promotes physical health and reduces the chances of developing chronic health issues like heart disease, diabetes or obesity, as well as cancer. This helps us become more mobile, self-sufficient and improves the quality of our lives. If your overall quality of life is better, you’re less likely to experience depression.

Studies have shown that it is more likely for you to suffer from depression in a diet that is high in processed foods rich in sugar and fat. Additionally certain nutrients can enhance the hormone serotonin that has been associated to mood, learning appetite, memory, as well as sleep. Studies have shown that people who eat healthy diets have a higher hippocampal volume (the part of your brain that is associated with studying and health) as compared to those who have unhealthy diets.

What can you do to increase your mind-body connection, aside from taking note of the fried fats and sweets?

  • Consume food items that contain Omega-3 fats. Consider oily fish such as tuna, sardines, salmon and trout, as well as foods such as flax, walnuts, and chia seeds. Omega-3 Fats can reduce inflammation and improve brain health.
  • Get some sun. Our bodies utilize sunlight to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D increases serotonin levels, among other advantages. Try to spend 35 minutes of sunlight at least twice each week.
  • Eat greens, beans, and whole grains to get B group vitamins. They are said to aid in providing energy, control neurotransmitters and improve the immune system. Talk to your doctor about B-complex, a supplement that is believed to be an energy boost.
  • Think about adding probiotics into your diet, either in the form of supplements or fermented food. Probiotics boost gut health, which is where more than 90% of your serotonin in the body is made. Examples of fermented food items that are probiotic-rich include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and Kimchi (traditional Korean dish made with cabbage) miso as well as tempeh (fermented soybean products) as well as Kombucha (fermented with sugar and black tea) as well as apple cider vinegar.

Food is the brain’s fuel “feed” it with smart decisions.

Taiya Bach works as a teacher faculty II and registered dietitian nutritionist at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at UW as well as is a participant in the CALS Wellness Committee.