- Kellie Blake RDN, LD, IFNCP
Using Nutrition to Improve Your Mental Health
October 6-12, 2019 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. Hippocrates said, “it is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” In other words, we have to look at everyone as a unique individual and provide care that is specific to that person and their own set of symptoms. It is not enough to just know that someone has symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, adhd, anxiety, or bipolar disorder; we have to get to know the root causes of those symptoms and adjust our treatment based on what will help that specific individual manage their symptoms and have an awesome quality of life.
One in five adults will experience mental illness this year and unfortunately there is not a one size fits all model when it comes to managing mental health disorders. The main dysfunction in mental illness is miscommunication at some level in the body. For example, there may be a nutrient deficiency, food intolerance or allergy, an unhealthy gut microbiome, a gene variant, or a hormone imbalance affecting the root cause of a mental illness. The appropriate nutrition recommendations can be powerful in creating a comprehensive plan of action to correct these imbalances. When the root causes are addressed and corrected, we can greatly improve quality of life, reduce symptoms and allow a person to heal.
Nutrition is powerful and while there is no one eating style that will be appropriate for every person, there are some general nutrition tips that can be helpful for most people, especially those with symptoms of mental illness:
Avoid sugar and sugar substitutes. Sugar damages the gut microbiome and we know brain health is closely related to the health of the gut. Sugar is also damaging to the brain and leads to chronic inflammation throughout the body. Low grade, chronic inflammation is a root cause of all chronic diseases. Likewise, sugar substitutes have been found to negatively affect the gut microbiome.
Eat lots of plants! Vegetables are the foundation for creating a healthy gut microbiome. In addition, they provide numerous vitamins, nutrients, fiber, and phytonutrients that can help improve brain function. Aim for lots of variety and at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Add in healthy fats. All fats are not bad for us. In fact, our brains are 60-70% fat and need good quality fat to function properly. The wrong types of fats like canola, corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower oils, and margarine can actually increase low-grade chronic inflammation. Choose good quality olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and fatty fish instead.
Avoid processed foods and fast food. Processed and fast foods have little to no nutritional value and they provide us with empty calories. In addition, many processed foods contain toxins that negatively affect the gut microbiome and the brain. The more processed a food is, the less nutrition it contains.
Choose healthy proteins. Avoid highly processed meats like bacon, sausage, and lunchmeat. Choose healthier cuts of meat, fish, and poultry and try meat-free sources of protein like beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
I personally like to enjoy green smoothies every morning. They are a great, simple way to add in valuable nutrients in a portable package. Check out this awesome green apple green smoothie recipe that adds loads of nutrients with a light, refreshing flavor:
10 ounces unsweetened nut milk
1 scoop vanilla vegan protein powder
½ frozen green apple
1 celery rib
1 handful spinach
½ scoop collagen peptides
3 cucumber slices
¼ frozen avocado
¼ frozen banana
Add all but frozen ingredients to a blender and blend on high for 1 minute. Add frozen ingredients and blend on high for 1 minute.
If you want more information about how to use nutrition to improve your own mental health, contact us for a free 15 minute phone consultation.