Three Key Nutrients for Optimal Mental Health

Posted January 2024
Horseradish cream, smoked mackerel, radish & dill on Corn Thins slices

For optimal health it can be easy to simply focus on the needs of your body. Your mind can often be forgotten but plays an equal role in determining your overall wellness and quality of life. There are several factors which can impact your mental health and one of these is your diet.

Your mind needs a variety of nutrients for health and function but three key nutrients which play an important role in promoting your optimal mental health are iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.



Zinc is a mineral which plays many important roles including promoting an optimal functioning immune system, helping create new proteins in your body, influences your sense of taste, and is needed for normal wound healing.

Zinc supports your mental health by helping the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. This is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which helps to create a sense of calmness and relaxation. During states of anxiety gamma-aminobutyric acid has been linked to promoting a relaxing and calming effect on your body and mind.

Good sources of zinc include nuts, seeds, legumes and beans, poultry, seafood, beef, and tofu.

How much zinc do you need each day? The recommended daily intake or RDI for zinc in Australia for men over the age of 19 are recommended to have 11mg of zinc daily and women 8mg of zinc daily in their diet.



Iron is another important mineral which has a number of functions including promoting an optimal immune system function and helping oxygen to be transported around your body. If you have low iron levels you may feel tired, lethargic, and low in energy. These feeling can have a secondary effect on the state of your mental health and increase your risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.

Iron cannot be made by your body and must be consumed in your diet. Good sources of iron include nuts, seeds, eggs, red meat, poultry, seafood, leafy greens, wholegrains and wholegrain containing foods like Corn Thins slices, tofu, tempeh, legumes and beans including red kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

How much iron do you need daily?

Men need 8mg and women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding need 18mg of iron a day.


Omega-3 Fat

There are many important roles this essential fat plays in promoting your overall health and optimal mental function. Omega-3 fats may help reduce inflammation, improve your mood and cognition and brain performance.

There are two main types of omega-3 fat found in marine sources. These are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the main type of fat that you brain needs. It is one of the reasons 100g of seafood is recommended to be included in your diet two to three times a week.  When you eat this amount of seafood a week this will give your body approximately 250–500 milligrams (mg) of marine-sourced omega-3s per day.

Good sources of omega-3 fat include fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies.

Plant sources which provide a different type of omega-3 fat called alpha-linoleic acid or ALA can be found in chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds. The type of omega-3 fat that your body can use is EPA and DHA forms. The amount of ALA that can be converted to EPA is low at around 1-10% to EPA and only 0.5-5% to DHA.


Take home message: To promote optimal health and quality of life looking after your mental health is essential. To promote your mental health, it is important to eat an overall balanced diet. Iron, zinc, and omega-3 fats are three nutrients of many which will help your mind to work optimally and for you to feel your best each day.




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Ashleigh Felth…
Accredited Practising Dietitian
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    • Ashleigh Felth…