When you think of management of your mental health, what comes to mind? Maybe you meditate or take yoga, perhaps you participate in group activities to stay connected to others, or maybe you focus on getting enough sleep. Do you ever think of the role food plays in all of this? You should. That’s because studies show that the foods you choose to consume play a big role in your mental health status. Here’s what to choose, and what to lose.
What to Choose:
A Mediterranean Diet Pattern
Several studies show a connection between consumption of a Mediterranean diet and positive mood. Perhaps this is because the diet has such an impact on overall brain health. One study found that people that ate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains had lower rates of depression over time. These are just three of the main components of the diet, in addition to fish and skinless poultry, legumes, extra virgin olive oil, and nuts.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
An animal study out of the Indiana School of Medicine found that omega 3 supplementation could have a potential “therapeutic benefit” for both anxiety and alcohol abuse. Another demonstrated the impressive anti-inflammatory impact of regular consumption of fatty fish, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Inflammation is the base of the majority of diseases worldwide and plays a role in depression. Other sources of omega 3 fatty acids include chia, hemp, and flax seeds, walnuts, and lake trout.
Several studies have linked vitamin D deficiencies to increases in depression. While vitamin D is poorly absorbed through food sources, it is well absorbed through the rays of the sun and supplementation with D3. Since spending too much time in the sun can increase the risk for melanoma, it is advised to have your vitamin D levels checked and then supplement with a D3 option. If you are taking a fish oil pill, you should pair the two together. Doing so will enhance the absorption of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin.
Getting more fermented foods in the diet (such as tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, and pickles) can enhance gut health. I’ll be focusing on the gut-mind connection in my next column but for now, consider adding some of these foods to your diet at least three times a week, or beginning a probiotic supplementation plan.
What to Ditch:
You now know which foods you should add to your diet, now let’s focus on the ones to take out. Sugar, fast, fried, and ultra-processed foods and trans fats should all be decreased in the quest for better mental health. That’s because these foods have been found in studies to be a bad mix for good mood. Additionally, sugar holds addictive properties and has been proven to increase the risk of several chronic conditions.
The Meadows Behavioral Healthcare family of programs realize that food choices affect the overall success of treatment. Many nutrients have connections with depression, anxiety, and addiction. Few treatment programs realize this connection and I am proud to be associated as a Senior Fellow of this organization.
Next month, I’ll be focusing on getting the best foods for a better gut!
Written By Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, Senior Fellow of Meadows Behavioral Healthcare