Food has been proven to play an important role in the development, management and prevention of certain mental illnesses. [Representational image]                                                                                                        Bruce Mars from Pexels

One of the most unrecognized elements contributing to poor mental health, and mental illnesses in young people, is lack of nutrition. Food has been proven to play an important role in the development, management and prevention of certain mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and even Alzheimer's.

A balanced mood and an overall well being can be achieved by making sure that our diet provides us with all the nutrients, and adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water, as explains.

So how can we ensure that our diet is nutritious enough to contribute to a healthier mind? Here are five simple steps that UK-based nutritionist Fiona Hunter suggested, writing for Daily Mail Online.

1. Don't substitute meals with snacks

"Teenagers and young adults are a generation of grazers but it can be hard to get all the nutrients you need if you're only eating snacks," writes Fiona, explaining that these snacks are high in fat, sugar and salt and equally low in vitamins, minerals and fiber.

"If you are going to snack then be snack smart, she adds. "Choose snacks that are fortified with and make a positive contribution to your diet."

girl eating donut
Don't substitute meals with snacks. [Representational image]Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

2. Plan for meals ahead

"Teenagers tend not to be good at thinking ahead and in terms of food this means that they often end up eating on the hoof, grabbing whatever available at the time," explains Fiona.

This can be not only expensive, but also unhealthy, so planning your meal a little ahead can always prove beneficial.

3. Don't eat alone

"Family meals provide an opportunity to talk and studies show that children who regularly eat with their families are more likely to have a healthier diet and have a higher intake of key vitamins and minerals," Fiona says. She advises eating meals together as a family at least a couple of times a week.

eating together
Don't eat alone. Eating meals together as a family at least couple of times a week is good for mental health. [Representational image]bruce mars from Pexels

4. Do some research before following diet fads

"It's easy to be lured into the latest diet fad," believes Fiona. "Claims made by the disciples of fads like clean eating, alkaline diets, Paleo diets all sound appealing but there's no science to support the promised they make and they can increase the risk of deficiencies."

Instead, she suggests doing some research on your own beforehand. In case of those opting for a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, she suggests making sure that 'you replace the nutrients you would be getting from foods like dairy and meat with other foods rich in these nutrients.'

5. Add a multivitamin and mineral to the diet

Fiona suggests thinking of this 'as an insurance policy.' It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the food, but it's not always possible, she explains. Gummy multivitamins and other fortified foods work just as well in this case.