Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on May 15, 2021

Your Diet Matters

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Those with schizophrenia, a chronic mental illness, often have unhealthy diets. Bad eating habits often lead to other health problems that can put these people at high risk for things like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Research suggests that some changes in diet can really help. Here’s a look at some foods to consider, and a couple to avoid.

Eat More: Fruits

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Many studies suggest that people with schizophrenia often don’t get enough fiber. Fruits -- raspberries, pears, apples, and others -- are some of the best sources of it. Fiber helps lower “bad” cholesterol and aids in digestion. Fiber-rich diets may lower your chance of some health problems that often are associated with schizophrenia, like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Fruits have healthy vitamins, too.

Eat More: Vegetables

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Low in fat and calories, packed with fiber and important vitamins, and without any heart-heavy cholesterol, vegetables are another staple missing in the diet of many people who have schizophrenia. Potassium, a key nutrient that may help keep your blood sugar in check, is in veggies like lima beans, kidney beans, and sweet potatoes.

Eat More: Salmon and Other Fatty Fish

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Omega-3 fatty acids can’t be made by the body. You need to get them through food. Why do you need them? A growing amount of research says that omega-3 fatty acids can prevent and ease the symptoms of schizophrenia and slow the disease’s progress. Salmon and mackerel are great sources of those acids. Don’t like fish? Ask your doctor about omega-3 supplements.

Eat More: Chicken Marinara

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Research suggests the vitamin niacin can slow the advance of schizophrenia and help ease its symptoms. One rich source of niacin is chicken; another is marinara sauce.

Eat More: Oysters and Crab

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Experts say there may be a relationship between low levels of zinc and schizophrenia. Oysters, crab, and lobster are high in this nutrient. You can also find it in beef and in fortified cereals. It’s available in supplements, too, but talk to your doctor before you take any of those.

Eat More: Clams

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A number of reports have shown low levels of vitamin B12 in those with psychosis -- a set of mental disorders that schizophrenia is one of. Other research says a bit more B12 can ease symptoms.

Clams are a big source of B12. It’s found in liver, trout, and in some breads, too.

Supplements may help, but check with your doctor first.

Eat More: Spinach

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The king of leafy greens, spinach is high in folate. (It’s called folic acid when it’s used in supplements or to fortify foods.) Folate can help ease symptoms of schizophrenia. Along with spinach, you can find it in black-eyed peas, asparagus, and beef liver.

Eat More: Cod Liver Oil

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Studies on vitamin D’s effect on schizophrenia are mixed. Still, more Vitamin D -- produced mainly from exposure to the sun, but available naturally in cod liver oil, swordfish, and salmon -- might help some folks who have the disorder.

Eat More: Nondairy Yogurt

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The gut microbiome -- that swamp of bacteria in your intestines -- gets a lot of attention. Some research has linked bad gut bacteria to schizophrenia. Getting more prebiotics, which are found naturally in fruits and veggies, may help. More “live culture” probiotics -- which are in yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut -- might help, too. Try to avoid diary/whey products that contain casein antibodies.

A No-No: Bread

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Some experts believe that sensitivity to wheat can be a factor in mental health conditions like schizophrenia. One study suggests some people with schizophrenia had their condition improve when they switched to a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains. Talk with your doctor about it.

No Good: Refined Sugars

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It’s been well established that most people with schizophrenia are bad eaters and that their odds of getting diabetes are higher. A diet that carries a low glycemic load -- a measure of sugar in your blood -- might ease the symptoms of schizophrenia. Cutting out refined sugars, found in things like sweetened beverages, candy, and cake, is a good place to start.

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