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By Melissa Kvidahl, FITBIE.com (TNS)

We know that food is fuel, which is why certain foods are so commonly associated with keeping our bodies running at an optimum pace. Trying to keep the common cold away? Load up on orange juice. Gearing up for that long run? Don’t forget your protein. Fighting the flu? Drink lots of fluids.

So it’s no surprise that new research shows that nutrition has just as vital a role to play in mental health as it does in physical health. According to the University of Melbourne, evidence of the relationship between diet quality — or lack thereof — and mental health is mounting. And researchers are urging psychiatry and public health professionals to recognize and embrace diet and nutrition as key determinants of mental health.

The University of Melbourne study points to a cocktail of nutrients that have a clear link to brain health. We spoke to Candice Schreiber, R.D. at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, to learn more about these nutrients and how to put them to good use in a healthy diet:
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Omega 3

Keeping omega-3 levels up may protect against depression and improve mood, Schreiber said.

Find it: Fatty fish — like salmon and sardines — walnuts, and flaxseed.
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B vitamins (folate and B12)

“B vitamins are involved in producing chemicals that affect mood and brain function,” Schreiber said.

Find it: B12 in meat, eggs, poultry, dairy. Folate in beans, green leafy vegetables and fortified grain products.
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Choline

Choline plays a major part in providing structural integrity and signaling roles for cell membranes.

Find it: egg yolks, beef, soybeans, wheat germ and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
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Iron

“Not getting enough iron in the diet can produce symptoms including irritability, anxiety and depression,” Schreiber said.

Find it: red meat, poultry, seafood, dark leafy green vegetables and beans.
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Zinc

“High concentrations of zinc in the brain are found in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory and learning,” Schreiber said.

Find it: meat, poultry, seafood, nuts and whole-grain products.
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Magnesium

Essential to all cells, magnesium compounds are also used medicinally to help stabilize abnormal nerve excitation.

Find it: whole grains, nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables, potatoes and avocados.
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S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe)

SAMe, an amino acid that naturally occurs in the body, plays a role in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine, Schreiber said, and low levels of circulating SAMe have been found in some patients with depression.

Find it: there are no food sources of SAMe, so you’ll have to get it from supplements if you’re low.
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Vitamin D

Vitamin D receptors are widespread in brain tissue and may have neuroprotective effects, Schreiber said.

Find it: if you can’t get it from sunlight, vitamin D-rich foods include fatty fish, egg yolks and beef liver.
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Amino acids

Amino acids are building blocks of protein and used in regulating mood.

Find it: meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and whole grains

Photo: gomattolson via Flickr

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