Mind Food

your body isn’t a machine, it’s an ecosystem 

By: Emily Bostin Timm MS RD BC-ADM CDCES

Mental health isn’t all in your head… it’s also in your gut. In Western medicine we like to separate out parts of the body and give them special attention: we treat the heart, the liver, the pancreas, the brain, etc. We do this because it keeps things organized, but we lose sight of the root cause of imbalance. The body is not a machine that repairs in isolation – the body is an ecosystem that needs a healthy climate to flourish.

When it comes to nutrition, we tend to adopt this same level of simplicity in our approach by focusing on single nutrients, but this doesn’t make sense because we don’t consume nutrients in isolation. The pattern of the diet is what creates synergy and unlocks potential for transformation.

A high-quality diet can help to regulate the gut microbiota to reduce stress and inflammation in the brain and subsequently maintain proper cognitive function throughout life. If you’re not familiar with the gut microbiota – it’s the unique collection of bacteria that each of us have, primarily in our large intestine, and it’s directly influenced by what we eat. The more nutrient rich the diet, the more diverse the bacteria present, the healthier the human. The health of our brain is directly connected to the health of our gut.

The field of Nutritional Psychiatry is emerging and what we’re learning so far is compelling and more relevant than ever, especially since over 22% of Americans are being treated for some kind of mental illness. In the PREDIMED trial (the largest dietary intervention study to date) we saw >20% reduced risk of depression for individuals following a Mediterranean eating pattern, and a >40% reduced risk for depression in the subset of individuals who have type 2 diabetes. We see similar results echoed in the SMILES randomized controlled trial. Observational studies also support that a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of developing neurological disorders by up to 28% compared to other diets.

A healthy diet rich in fiber, polyphenols and micronutrients has a positive effect on the gut microbiome composition, inflammation and brain health.  Additional benefits from increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and trace minerals may relieve deficiencies of certain important nutrients that impact mood and overall brain health.

Beyond promoting optimal mental health in general, the adoption of a healthy eating pattern that meets dietary recommendations and nutrient requirements is important to prevent, slow the progression of, or manage depressive symptoms. Focus on adequate consumption of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc through a plant-forward eating pattern like the Mediterranean diet. This eating pattern emphasizes olive oil, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, seafood and lean protein sources while decreasing consumption of refined grains, added sugar and red meat. Learn more at: bluezones.org, oldwayspt.org, or plantforwardkitchen.org/ and book a session with one of our dietitians to accelerate your transformation.

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Grajek, M., Krupa-Kotara, K., Białek-Dratwa, A., Sobczyk, K., Grot, M., Kowalski, O. and Staśkiewicz, W., 2022. Nutrition and mental health: A review of current knowledge about the impact of diet on mental health. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9, p.943998.

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Kris-Etherton, P.M., Petersen, K.S., Hibbeln, J.R., Hurley, D., Kolick, V., Peoples, S., Rodriguez, N. and Woodward-Lopez, G., 2021. Nutrition and behavioral health disorders: depression and anxiety. Nutrition reviews, 79(3), pp.247-260.

Mörkl, S., Wagner-Skacel, J., Lahousen, T., Lackner, S., Holasek, S.J., Bengesser, S.A., Painold, A., Holl, A.K. and Reininghaus, E., 2020. The role of nutrition and the gut-brain axis in psychiatry: a review of the literature. Neuropsychobiology79(1), pp.80-88.

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