Food and Mental Health
Written by: Dana Odetalla, UCO Dietetics student. Edited by: Coriann MacNeil, UCO Dietetics graduate student.
A lot of aspects go into being healthy and good mental health is one of them. Eating balanced meals and certain food items can help increase our energy and mental health to improve our daily moods. It may not completely fix what you are going through, but a boost of energy can always be of help. Better mental health equals better quality of life.
When participating in the EMM program, clients are homebound and either elderly or disabled. Being homebound can sometimes take a big toll on mental health. Whether it is the client themselves, caregivers, or family, it can be difficult to focus on mental health. There are many ways to help increase energy when feeling down during these times and starting slowly with a few foods can be a great start.
What can harm our stress and depression?
Consuming hyper-palatable processed food products may negatively impact mental health due to some of the ingredients. These types of products may increase inflammation in our body and in our brains which could result in mood disorders, anxiety, and depression (Sutter Health). Avoiding these foods altogether can be difficult and could possibly lead to over-consuming later if there is too much restriction. A better approach is to find balance and limit these foods rather than avoid them at all costs.
Another approach is to focus on adding foods rather than restricting. Implementing fruits and vegetables into your meals can be a great addition to your diet and way to boost your mental health. Foods that can be added as a small snack can be lean proteins such as almonds, legumes, pumpkin seeds, and more. Finding food items that have high omega-3 fatty acids can be added to your meals to help improve brain stimulation. Examples are avocados, flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, chia seeds, and salmon.
Caffeine is a big component of many people’s daily consumption. Whether it is coffee to help with energy or simple soda to enjoy with their meals. What people may not know is that coffee is a stimulant. This stimulation will give you the energy you are wanting in the moment but later on, after it’s consumed, it may lead to a withdrawal effect that can increase your anxiety levels and make you feel sluggish. Another approach would be having a low amount of caffeine and eating foods that increase energy or switching to non-caffeinated drinks or drinking decaffeinated coffee. This may be hard at first but in the end it can be beneficial in your day to day life.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps your body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus. Many people might think that being Vitamin D deficient causes no harm but this may actually negatively impact mental health. Inadequate Vitamin D is thought to play a role in a depression commonly starting in the fall and lasting through the winter known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (Mental Health America). While it is well-known that you can get Vitamin D from the sun, being homebound can make this difficult. Even if you are going out in the sun, sometimes it is not enough to help improve your Vitamin D levels. Some food items that can help improve your Vitamin D can be foods such as salmon, canned tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms, cod liver oil, beef liver, and fortified milk.
Green, Leafy Vegetables
Adding green, leafy vegetables to your diet can help slow down your cognitive decline. Cognitive decline is a decrease in memory and awareness, such as forgetting past events or losing your sense of direction. To help slow down this decline you can add these components into your meals. Some great examples of these would be collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli. You can use these ingredients and put them into salads, smoothies, sandwiches, and main dishes. This doesn’t mean your diet has to only consist of these but adding a small or good amount of these to your daily meals can be a big improvement.
A flavonoid is a diverse group of phytonutrients that are plant chemicals found in many fruits and vegetables. This can help with cognitive diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s in older populations. They can also enhance brain blood flow and reverse age-related declines in learning. Food examples of flavonoids are berries, kale, red cabbage, dark chocolate, green tea, citrus fruits, soybeans, tomatoes, scallions, tomatoes, and more. These ingredients can be easily added to your meals and help you in the long term to support healthy aging.
“Healthy Diet: Eating with Mental Health in Mind.” Mental Health America, https://www.mhanational.org/healthy-diet-eating-mental-health-mind.
“Home.” Sutter Health, https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health.
Watson, Kathryn. “Everything You Need to Know about Flavonoids.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 23 Oct. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/what-are-flavonoids-everything-you-need-to-know.