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Tasty Tuesday by Anna Grindeland, RD, CD: Food and your mental health

Anna Grindeland, RD, CD

May is Nutrition Research month, a reminder that every day there is more to know about food, nutrition, and your health. Ongoing nutrition research is vital to what we know about nutrition, which helps health care providers make better informed clinical decisions, helps individuals meet their health goals and better care for their physical and mental health.

For an example, a fellow WHMC employee recently shared this fascinating new research about diet and depression with me:

You may have heard of the “SAD” diet: Standard American Diet. This refers to a growing diet trend that started after the Second World War, which includes a majority of animal-sourced foods like meat, dairy, and saturated fats, and included less fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole foods. The SAD diet is calorie dense but not nutrient-dense, and we are learning that there may be more to its namesake…

A randomized control study, discussed in this Medscape viewable article, found a significant relationship between diet quality and patients diagnosed with major depression (1). The study looked at participants that were already receiving some form of treatment for depression (psychotherapy, medications, or both). Some received a diet intervention (fancy word for nutrition education on how to eat healthier provided by a dietitian), while the control group was given social support.

Researchers found that those given the diet intervention showed statistically significant improvements in their depression symptoms after 12 weeks, also when compared with those that had social support. This is very promising!

Further research has revealed to us what kinds of food are beneficial to mental health (2). Authors of this paper collected previous research (like that discussed above) and turned it into practical nutrition advice. They identified 4 key diet recommendations for improving mental health. Let’s discuss:

  1. Following a traditional diet plan, such as the Mediterranean diet, Norwegian traditional diet, or Japanese traditional diet. All of these traditional diets include these food habits:
  2. Eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables—including breakfast, lunch and dinner to reach your 5-9 servings per day. Try a new bean or lentil recipe each week—these foods are an excellent source of protein to use in place of meat, perhaps on Meatless Mondays. Classic legume recipes include hummus, black bean quesadillas, and Indian lentil dal.
  3. Include sources of omega 3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats. Also known as “healthy fats,” these heart-healthy fats are found in nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and vegetable oils like olive oil, canola, and others. Try an oil-based dressing for salads, dips, and to top cooked veggies in place of cheese.
  4. Replace unhealthy foods, such as processed foods, fast foods, commercially baked foods and sweets, with nutritious foods (see above). Making the switch to cooking at home can save you time, money, and your health. Baking whole meats instead of lunch meats, making a sandwich on the go instead of a fast food stop, indulging in fruit-based desserts and treats instead of processed baked goods and sweets.

References and additional reading:

  1. Jacka FN, O'Neil A, Opie R, et al. A randomized controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the 'SMILES' Trial). BMC Medicine. 2017;15:23.Accessed May 5, 2017 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28137247.
  2. Opie RS, Itsiopoulos C, Parletta N, et al. Dietary recommendations for the prevention of depression. Nutr Neurosci. 2015 Aug 28. [Epub ahead of print]. Accessed May 5, 2017 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26317148
  3. Palmer S. Smart eating-How diet may help preserve the brain. Today’s Dietitian Magazine. 2009 July; 11:7; p.24. Accessed May 5, 2017 from: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/062909p24.shtml

Have a Tasty Tuesday!

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.