Good, Good, Good Nutrition, Part I: Foods to Eat to Help Manage Bipolar Disorder

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Credit to flickr.com user jrsnchzhrs. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Food is important. That’s undeniable. While there’s no specific diet that helps manage bipolar disorder, studies have shown that an unhealthy diet can trigger manic episodes. New research shows hat depression symptoms decline with a Mediterranean-style diet. So, what you put into your body is crucial. Although the foods that follow won’t cure bipolar disorder, they can help you feel better, making it easier to cope with mood episodes.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are largely used to manage heart disease, though some studies have suggested that they can help with mental health as well. According to a recent review by Peet and Stokes, “Epidemiological studies indicate an association between depression and low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and biochemical studies have shown reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes in both depressive and schizophrenic patients.” This basically means that people who eat fewer omega-3 fatty acids tend to deal with more depressive symptoms. This is a big deal!

Other results have been more mixed, showing that there’s a lot more research that has to be done before omega-3s can be used to definitively treat bipolar disorder or depression.

Omega-3s can be found in:

  • fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, halibut, and sardines
  • flax seeds and their oil
  • eggs
  • soybeans
  • walnuts
  • wild rice

Magnesium

Preliminary studies suggest that magnesium is useful for reducing the symptoms of mania. Still others report that the vitamin is good for warding off depression and migraines. There’s a whole host of other dietary benefits for magnesium as well, such as keeping muscles and nerves functioning, regulating blood sugar, and treats hypertension. The recommended daily amount (RDA) is 420 milligrams (mg) for adult men and 320 mg for adult women.

Magnesium is found in:

  • almonds
  • avocado
  • beans
  • bran cereal
  • brown rice
  • cashews
  • chocolate
  • cereal (Shredded Wheat)
  • edamame (immature soybeans)

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element that’s essential for smooth brain function. The element helps stabilize moods. Deficiencies in selenium, of which adults need at least 55 micrograms (mcg) daily, have been linked to anxiety and depression.

Selenium is found in the following foods:

  • Brazil nuts
  • tuna
  • halibut
  • sardines
  • ham
  • shrimp
  • steak
  • turkey
  • beef liver

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid which helps make melatonin and serotonin, which help you sleepy and happy, respectively. A recent study–the same one that showed magnesium can reduce mania symptoms–showed that tryptophan, too, can help mania. 

Tryptophan is often associated with Thanksgiving dinner, specifically turkey, but in reality, turkey only boasts as much of the amino acid as chicken. A pork chop has more, as does soybeans. Tryptophan can also be found in eggs, tofu, and cheese, so don’t worry if you don’t like turkey; you have plenty of options.

Probiotics

Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria that is healthy for your gut. Research about the biome of our intestines is a hot topic. The microbes there have been shown in studies to release serotonin, which helps keep bipolar people on an even keel.

Probiotics can be found in:

  • yogurt
  • kefir
  • kombucha
  • sauerkraut
  • kimchi
  • miso

Dark Chocolate

One-and-a-half ounces of 70% dark chocolate daily is the recommended dose to lower stress hormones, according to a recent study. And who doesn’t like dark chocolate? However, be careful with your dose of chocolate, as cacao beans contain caffeine, and chocolate itself contains sugar, both of which are foods you want to avoid (see Part II).

Saffron

Saffron is a red spice shaped like a thread found in dishes from India. Studies have shown that saffron extract is as effective an antidepressant as Prozac. The spice is expensive on its own, however, so take care when filling the shopping cart and cooking with it. A little goes a long way.

In short, while there is no specific diet for bipolar disorder, incorporating these foods may help manage your manic and depressive episodes. However, foods are no replacement for a comprehensive treatment plan from your doctor. Experiment with diet, but keep to your psychiatrist’s recommendations. Happy eating!

Keep an eye out for Part II: Foods to Avoid.

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Author: Cassandra Stout

Hi! My name is Cassandra Stout, and I am a freelancer and memoirist who blogs at The Bipolar Parent (Cassandrastout.com/bpparent) and at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF.org). My current project is Committed, my upcoming memoir that depicts my time spent in a psych ward after a postpartum psychotic breakdown. I am a ten-year member of a five-person critique group called the Seattle Scribblers. It's nice to meet you!

9 thoughts on “Good, Good, Good Nutrition, Part I: Foods to Eat to Help Manage Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Ugh – I’m so hopeless when it comes to all of the stuff I eat.
    As a vegan, I’m making sure I get enough B12 (it’s easy to skimp on that) & you can buy vegan omega 3 made from algae – it’s pricey, but it sounds like it’s worth it! And who knew that plants have lots of protein too? I finally did & I’m glad that’s the case.

    But I’m no dietary saint. I’m eating brownie batter right now. :(((((((( Damn!

    I might have mentioned this in a previous post, but I started taking a tryptophan supplement after my psychiatrist suggested it for my insomnia. Alas, it didn’t work & the $27 bottle has been gifted to my friend!

    I’m very curious about probiotics & would like to learn more about that when I’m not lazy.

    Looking forward to Part 2 and you did a great job as always Cass!!! XoXo

    1. Hi, Dyane!

      Thanks for commenting! I’m so sorry that the tryptophan supplements didn’t work for your insomnia. I hope you find something that works soon!

      Probiotics are an interesting field. I’d definitely recommend looking into them.

      As for brownie batter, well, you have to splurge sometimes!

  2. Good article, Cassandra! You mentioned Mediterranean diets, and I’d like to here more about that. Seems that the Japanese have several categories covered with the simple soybean, ie. edamame, tofu, and miso!

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