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Food, Nutrition & Mental Health

There’s a lot of discussion about the role that food and nutrition can play in mental health. Research in the area of nutritional psychiatry is still relatively new, but it’s certainly a topic worthy of exploring. The nutritional adequacy of the diets of individuals with mental illness may not receive the attention it deserves. 

Food For Mood

There are many articles proposing that nutritional inadequacies contribute to, or are actually responsible for, depression, and at the very least, potentiate it. However, it is not obvious which comes first: nutritional deficiencies or mental health disorders. 

Can Nutrition Play A Role In Mental Health Treatment? 

Whether or not certain nutrients help or, by their absence, hinder mental health is something that needs more research.  However, in a meta-analysis published in 2017, authors found that “a dietary pattern characterized by a high intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”

According to researchers at the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, “good nutrition can positively impact mood, decrease anxiety and stress, and improve sleep, making it important to consider the nutritional needs of individuals with behavioral health concerns. When thinking about creating better health habits with clients, it is possible to make small, incremental changes.”

Can Mental Health Treatment Play a Role in the Effectiveness of a Diet? 

For individuals who are already taking antidepressants or other psychiatric medication, as part of their treatment for depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns, weight gain is among the most common negative side effects. We are still not sure exactly why this occurs but many individuals on these medications report feeling like they have a never ending appetite. Whether they started out overweight or not, many individuals on antidepressants find themselves gaining weight and despite being aware of the cause of it, they still feel powerless over their cravings. 

Feed Your Brain Some Serotonin

Our own research conducted at M.I.T. found that by eating carbohydrates alone, serotonin is boosted in the brain, leading to an improved mood and a feeling of satiety. We work with Serotonin Power Dieters who struggle with losing weight due to antidepressant use and emotional overeating and find that strategically incorporating beneficial carbs into an overall healthy diet leads to curbed cravings and weight loss. Of course, some carbs are more beneficial than others.  When possible, choose carbs that are whole grain and contain minimal refined sugar and grains. Learn more about the Serotonin Power Diet.

Whether mental health challenges are the chicken or the egg (no pun intended), good nutrition offers many benefits which certainly benefits physical health and shows great promise for mental health. We look forward to more findings about the important role that nutrition plays in mental health.

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