Certain foods, vitamins can positively impact mental health

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The food you eat has an impact not only on your physical health but also your mental health.

A recent study published shows junk food can actually increase someone’s chances of becoming depressed. Researchers in Britain, Spain and Australia found that unhealthy foods can be linked to chronic inflammation associated with developing clinical depression.

That study echos what other studies and those in the nutrition and dietetics field have also found, certain foods and vitamins can impact mental health.

"When we're eating well we're supporting our overall general health," Julie Marks, M.S., a nutritionist with the National University of Natural Medicine's (NUNM) Food as Medicine Institute, said.

Overall health means mental and physical health. Marks says foods with vitamin B help regulate mood. "People who suffer from depression and anxiety and other mood disorders are known to have lower levels or deficiencies in their B vitamins," Marks said.

Solid sources of vitamin B include dark, leafy greens and legumes. Spinach, chard and kale are good options, as are chick peas and black beans.

NUNM provided KATU with a few recipes from the Food as Medicine Everyday (FAME) cookbook to help people get more vitamin B in their diets. You can find all recipes in the photo gallery for this article.

One creative way is to cook kale, turning it into kale chips. Another option is to sauté seasonal greens. Those can both be good sides with fatty fish, like salmon. Salmon is a good source of both vitamin B and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

"Omega-3s are a healthy type of fat that have anti-inflammatory properties, and we've known for awhile that these fats really promote heart health, but we're more recently discovering that these anti-inflammatory properties also work just to support overall brain function and then also mood disorders," Marks said.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are also found in, "Nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, flax seed and chia seeds," Marks explained.

Portland State University also did some research on how nutrition impacts mental health. The article cites a University of California, Irvine College of Medicine paper titled Lifestyle and Mental Health. The UC Irvine article details the impact vitamin D has on mental health: "Vitamin D deficiency is widespread throughout the population, especially in the elderly, and exacts a significant medical toll; several studies suggest associations with cognitive impairment, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia."

According to Marks, "95% of serotonin production takes place in our gut." Serotonin in the chemical that makes people feel happy. Marks says good bacteria found in fermented foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut, promotes good gut health.

"By supporting our gut with healthy bacteria and probiotics we can really work to support that serotonin production," Marks explained.

NUNM also pushes the importance of monitoring blood sugar, especially during the holidays when sweet treats are seemingly everywhere. Eating a lot of sugar can raise your insulin levels, causing your blood sugar to drop.

"Having low blood sugar is associated with dizziness, jittery-ness, irritability and not a sustained energy throughout the day," Dr. Pera Gorson, the lead physician at NUNM's Food as Medicine Institute, said.

Dr. Gorson says to avoid those feeling, a well-balanced plate is essential. Dr. Gorson said each meal should include fat, fiber and protein. The FAME plate consists of half a plate of non-starchy vegetables (FAME's "Basked Root Fries"), a quarter plate of whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa and another quarter plate of protein (FAME's "Healthy Chicken Bites"), like meat. Dr. Gorson says the "Coco Loco Protein Bars" from FAME provide a good balance of all three: fat, fiber and protein.

Dr. Gorson also says not only what you eat, but also how you eat can impact your mood. She says eating with people is also important. "Enjoying conversation, making eye contact, that's an important piece, not only for digestion but for happiness, for feeling connected in your life," Dr. Gorson explained.

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