Mental Health Matters: You Are What You Eat

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You Are What You Eat

By:  Melanie Mediate, LPN, Civil Residential Supervisor

“You are what you eat”.  How many times have you either said or heard this idiom?  Most of the time when people make this statement they are referring to how your diet affects your physical health.  However, this saying can also extend to your mental health.

For thousands of years, people have believed that food could influence their health and well-being.  Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, once said:  “Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”   We are all probably well aware of the effects of chocolate or say, coffee, on our mood, and there have been many studies to back this up regarding the psychoactive effects of the chemicals found in these foods, such as caffeine.  More recently however, there has been research in the fields of neuroscience and nutrition that show a diet of modern, processed foods have led to an increase in depression, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity, and a host of other mental or emotional problems.   A significant study of women’s diets by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that those whose diets contained the greatest number of omega-3 fats were significantly less likely to suffer from depression.  With these studies becoming more numerous and published, many psychiatrists have taken to putting away the prescription pad and instead formulating a diet recommendation to treat depression and anxiety disorders.  The best prescriptions are often those that are simple and easy to follow, thus if you find yourself asking what kind of diet changes could improve your mental well- being, keep these four basic suggestions in mind.

  • Skip the processed foods.

Full of empty calories that may lead to nutritional deficiencies that will affect energy levels, moods, and thought processes.  Brain healthy nutrients are found in whole foods such as seafood (omega-3 fats), leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

  • Don’t be afraid of fats.

While Trans fats (found in many packaged baked goods) are among the unhealthiest substances around, the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA found in whole foods (fish, seafood) are great for your brain.  Foods with healthy fats can actually help you feel full, so you end up eating less.

  • Meat is brain food.

The right meat is rich in protein and omega-3 fats.  Not all meat is created equal though.  Grass-fed beef and chicken have more beneficial nutrients with the added bonus of being free of antibiotics and hormones often found in factory farmed animals.

  • Your local farmer is your friend.

Shopping at a local farmers market can give you the added motivation to stay away from processed foods.  Get to know the people who grow your food.  It’s also a great way to support local businesses.  You can find local farmers easily at localharvest.org.

The goal is not to become a food snob (we all know that person!), but to make a connection between your plate and your feelings.  Learn to choose foods that support your emotional well-being.  Happy eating!

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