This post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace medical advice from a qualified health care practitioner or therapist.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on my path as a dietitian. What I’ve learned in the last five years. How I’ve grown. Clients who have changed me. What my own health challenges have taught me. How illness of my closest family and friends have impacted me deeply and have shaped me personally and professionally. These challenges have lead me to explore areas of nutrition and health I never considered.
Which brings me to this post today.
My private practice and personal experiences have ignited my interest in the connection between nutrition and mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Once I began to dive into this topic it was easy to see how research unravels the close and complicated relationship between physical and mental health. There is no doubt that mood disorders are complex conditions influenced by factors like genetics and life stressors. Treatment often involves therapy and medication, however, nutrition strategies can also play a role by supporting the health of our brain, right down to the neural connections. Deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a higher prevalence of mood disorders. If you want to support your body with nutrition, but aren’t sure where to start, these three steps can help.
STEP 1: BACK TO BASICS
The foundation starts with incorporating nourishing foods and eating balanced meals to provide the body and brain with the basic building blocks for proper function. Calorie restriction may have long-term detrimental effects in depression by decreasing leptin levels (the "hunger" hormone) and inhibiting the function of serotonin receptors (the "feel good" hormone). Food is needed to fuel and nourish the body, so dieting and food restriction has no place in mental health management.
Get back to basics with these recipes:
Veggie Loaded Red Lentil Past with Chicken Sausage
Stuffed Bell Pepper Soup
Italian Beef, Quinoa and Kale Skillet
STEP 2: IMPROVE DIGESTION
You might be thinking, “What does digestion have to do with my mood?” The digestive system (aka the gut) is actually referred to as the second brain. Research shows gut health is strongly connected to mental health. As I researched this topic I was astounded to learn 95% of the body's serotonin is made in the gut! Serotonin levels are associated with positive mood and physical well-being. Numerous studies support the possibility that there may be a two way interaction where serotonin influences mood and mood influences serotonin.
For this reason supporting digestion through food and probiotic intake is crucial for both physical and mental health. Probiotics or “good” bacteria that flourish in the digestive tract help maintain your body’s overall gut health; however, antibiotics, poor nutrition, and stress can kill off the good guys. These tiny microbes can actually influence the state of our mind, mood and more.
Support digestive health by:
adding in fruit, veggies, beans, and whole grains
drinking plenty of water
consuming a combination of probiotics – both through food (yogurt, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut) and supplementation. When selecting a probiotic supplement, look for a high CFU (colony forming unit) count, between for 25-50 billion CFUs
STEP 3: SUPPORT WITH THE RIGHT NUTRIENTS
Omega 3 Fatty Acids - These good-for-you fats are essential for the body and must be taken in through diet. They play a critical role in the development and function of the central nervous system. Omega 3’s are found in delicious foods like salmon, tuna, hemp seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. In addition to food, a fish oil supplement can be the simplest and most consistent way to get to achieve daily omega-3 intake.
Vitamin D - Emerging research demonstrates a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and mood disorders like depression. Nutritional sources of Vitamin D are limited but found in certain fatty fish and eggs. Statistics suggest that 70% of the U.S. population is Vitamin D deficient, so it can be beneficial to get your levels tested with a physician, and then consider supplementation.
Magnesium - A mineral that’s been called “the original chill pill” is found in spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, and dark chocolate. Magnesium has been researched regarding its positive impact in depression and anxiety.
Did you find these nutrition strategies helpful? What tools do you use to cope with anxiety or depression? I'd love to hear from you, so drop me a comment!