I recommend whole grains because they’re rich in B vitamins, one of the most important groups of nutrients for short- and long-term neurological health. B1 is involved in turning glucose into energy—low levels can lead to feeling tired and sluggish. It can also make us mentally tired and affect concentration and overall mental performance. Vitamin B3 has a long-standing association with mental health, since its deficiency illness, pellagra, was understood. Sufferers of pellagra get a thick, scaly skin rash on exposure to sunlight, but they also get depression, disorientation, and apathy.
B3 has been used in several studies in the treatment of schizophrenia and has also shown promise in improving memory in both the young and old. Vitamin B5 is needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for memory and learning. Vitamin B6 is an incredibly important nutrient for mental health for two distinct reasons. It’s a key nutrient involved in the formation of myelin, that super-conductive sheath that carries signals rapidly across the axon. It also helps convert the amino acid tryptophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin, the aforementioned feel-good compound.
Vitamin B12 is also showing some potential links to mental health, although the reasons behind this are slightly less clear than other B vitamins. One theory is that B12 is involved in the production of a type of neurotransmitter called monoamines. These are involved in emotion, cognition, and arousal. It is also thought that, in combination with vitamin B6 and folic acid, B12 can reduce levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which can cause damage to the brain and cardiovascular system.