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Brain Food: Can What We Eat Improve Our Mental Health?

Depression is an epidemic and top driver of disability for Americans aged 15 to 44, according to the World Health Organization. And what’s more, only one in ten adults meet the daily federal recommendations for fruits and vegetables. By meeting the requirements of the latter, we may be able to affect the former. One nutritional psychologist, Dr. Drew Ramsey, advises patients on how eating better may contribute to better mental health.

It’s not just antidepressants, other medications, and talk therapy that can help depression. Nutritional psychologists like Dr. Ramsey, find that a diet rich in nutritious food can help, too.

What the Research Says

There is limited research on diet’s impact on mental health, but a study of more than 12,000 Australians discovered that those who increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables reported increases in happiness and satisfaction in life compared to those whose diets remained the same.

Another study found that eating fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of canned, was more important due to the higher nutrient content of raw fruits and vegetables.

And finally, the first randomized controlled trials testing whether diet helps treat depression found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks reported positive mental health affects.

What’s the Optimal Diet for Mental Health?

There is no specific diet that works for everyone. But Dr. Lisa Mosconi, director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, recommends cutting processed foods, reducing meat and dairy, and eating more fatty fish, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain brain acuity.

Mosconi and Ramsey recommend “eating the rainbow.” By consuming an array of colorful foods like kale, peppers, blueberries, and tomatoes among others, people can reduce inflammation throughout the body and promote the growth of new brain cells.

Vegetable-only diets do not contain key nutrients for the brain including long chain omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. In fact, some large, observational studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans may have somewhat higher rates of depression and eating disorders than those who eat a more diverse diet.

By being mindful and focusing in on what we’re eating and how we feel, we bring a mindset and attitude that can contribute to better mental health.

Source: New York Times

Sonja Stilp M.D. is a doctor and founder of RISE. She is a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with fellowship training in interventional spine and sports medicine.  Dr. Stilp has advanced training in regenerative medicine and orthobiologics for the treatment of spine and sports injuries. Schedule an appointment to meet with Dr. Stilp at RISE in Boulder, Colorado.

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