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A Healthy Diet Can Improve Your Mental Health

Silver Hill Hospital

The link between how food affects our mood is becoming common knowledge.  There are blockbuster books, recipes and diets can be found on the Internet, and even grocery manufacturers now package perfect snack pairings to you power through that mid-day slump.

Both good and bad moods can come from food. The 80% if US adults who drink coffee will attest to its benefit as a stimulant, but drink too much and it will bring on anxiety, nervousness and moodiness. That popular low carb diet can actually make you depressed. Serotonin—a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and has a calming effect—can be found in carbs. Focus on the complex ones—high in fiber and packed with whole grains— for a long lasting, positive effect on mood. Simple carbs (white flour, cookies, candy) may give you a jolt of energy, but will be followed by a crash.

But proteins have their place too. They build up amino acids, fundamental to every aspect of good health. The one called tryptophan is sent to the brain—and tryptophan is known to influence mood.

It is not Is it possible to treat depression, anxiety, moodiness, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses with food.? Not entirely. Mental illnesses are complex, often requiring both pharmacological and psychological management. But there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that a healthy diet triggers positive chemical and physiological changes in the brain.

What we eat today is very different from even our recent ancestors. Food production and manufacturing techniques, changing lifestyles and increasing access to processed foods, mean that our intake of fresh, nutritious, local produce is much lower, at the same time as our intake of fat, sugar, alcohol and additives is much higher. March is Nutrition Month,  a good time to share some tips that can improve your own food mood connection.. At Silver Hill, nutrition and a healthy diet are critical components of our treatment programs. We thought this would be a good time to share some tips that can improve your own food mood connection.

Food Tips for Improved Mental Health

Eat regularly throughout the day
Eat every four hours to maintain healthy blood sugars. Include snacks of not more than 200 calories. Nuts and fruit or cheese and crackers are always good.

Get your Omega-3’s
Research at the National Institute of Mental Health confirms that low Omega 3 levels are associated with depression, pessimism, impulsivity and even schizophrenia. Omega 3, is found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, or alternatives like flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil.

Fight depression with iron, thiamine and folic acid
Insufficient iron, thiamine and folic acid can lead to depression, fatigue and moodiness, but the right amount will can help increase your general happiness and sociability. Find iron in red meats, beans and artichokes. Thiamine in cereal grains and vegetables. Egg yolks, if fortified, have all three: iron thiamine and Omega 3. Green veggies, oranges, nuts and whole wheat bread have folic acid.

Plenty of fluids
Brain cells require water to operate. Dehydration is not only harmful physically; it can make you cranky and disoriented. Alcohol can make you dehydrated, so focus on other fluids. Water is always great, green tea packs antioxidants. Low fat or skim milk has whey protein that will improve your mood, memory and reduce stress.

So ditch the donuts and cut back on soda. The simple sugars will not work – and besides, it does nothing for your waistline, the spreading of which can also make you feel depressed. If you focus on the right ones, food really can improve your mood.

Sources:
Snack Foods to Improve Your Mood
Omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of psychiatric disorders
CDC Nutrition for Everyone: Protein
National Alliance for Mental Illness: Food for Thought (PDF)
FDA Medicines in my Home: Caffeine and your Body