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Nutrition and Mental Wellness

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hosts National Nutrition Month® to help Americans learn about making informed food choices, develop healthy eating habits, and encourage physical activity. We all know a healthy, nutritious diet is essential for our physical wellness, but did you know there has been much research done recently regarding the impact nutrition has on our mental health, too?

Mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder as well as substance use disorders constitute a significant proportion of disability globally that result in substantial social and economic burdens. While pharmacological and psychotherapy are traditional treatments for these issues, there is now a wide availability of research that shows that diet may be a modifiable risk factor for improved mental health.[1]

There are a couple of ways diet can affect mental health. The first is the consumption of highly refined carbohydrates. Carbohydrates in foods are ranked on the glycemic index according to the speed at which they are digested, absorbed, metabolized, and how they affect blood glucose and insulin levels. The consumption of highly processed carbohydrates could increase the risk of depression and anxiety through repeated and rapid increases and decreases in blood glucose levels. Additionally, high glycemic index diets are a risk factor for diabetes, which is often a comorbid condition with depression. Foods with a high glycemic index can cause an inflammatory response, which has also been associated with symptoms of depression.[2]

Secondly, recent research has found that food may affect mental well-being through its effect on the gut microbiome, the trillions of microbial organisms naturally occurring in the human gut. Dysbiosis (disturbance in the gut) and inflammation of the gut have been linked to causing several mental diseases, including anxiety and depression. Probiotics have the ability to restore normal microbial balance, and studies are ongoing to see if probiotics might play a role in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and depression.[3]

In the meantime, you can make changes in your diet to include more natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and moderate consumption of poultry, eggs, and dairy. Try to eat fewer processed foods not found in nature or with a high glycemic index. For more facts on healthy eating, tips on grocery shopping on a budget or for a family, snack and meal ideas, and even recipes, visit National Nutrition Month®. Read more about nutrition and the mind-body-gut connection at our website, and call us at (385) 429-9808 to schedule an appointment with our nutritionist.

[1] Marx W, Moseley G, Berk M, Jacka F. Nutritional psychiatry: the present state of the evidence. Proc Nutr Soc. 2017 Nov;76(4):427-436. doi: 10.1017/S0029665117002026. Epub 2017 Sep 25. PMID: 28942748. [2] Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borisini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? [published correction appears in BMJ. 2020 Nov 9;371:m4269]. BMJ. 2020;369:m2382. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.1136/bmj.m2382 [3] Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota's effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017;7(4):987. Published 2017 Sep 15. doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987


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