03 May Mental Health & Nutrition: Manage Stress, Depression, and Anxiety with Dietary Interventions
Stress has become a way of life, it seems. Busyness, stress, and feeling the crush of time are seemingly more American than apple pie. You don’t have to live a life of anxiousness. Recognize the symptoms of stress. Stress can manifest in various ways, making it important to recognize its symptoms. Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach pains, muscle pain, sleep problems, fatigue, and decreased libido can all be indications of stress. If you are a experiencing lack of appetite and feeling incredibly overwhelmed after your baby is born, you may be experiencing postpartum depression.
If you believe you are suffering from anxiety or depression, please see your primary caregiver or ObGyn and get the support you need. An interdisciplinary team of doctors and functional dietitians can help get you on track to feeling better. We’re here to tell you that how you eat, and what you eat, can play a huge role in reducing stress and managing depression and anxiety. Here are nutrition tips to improve your mental health.
Understand the link between diet and mental health:
The gut-brain axis is the complex communication network that exists between the gut and the brain. It involves the constant exchange of information between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system, which is the complex network of nerves and neurons in the digestive tract. The gut-brain axis works bidirectionally, meaning that signals can be sent from the gut to the brain and vice versa. For example, the gut can send signals to the brain that can influence our emotions, behavior, and cognitive function. These signals include hormones, neurotransmitters, and immune molecules, which can affect our mood, appetite, and even our ability to handle stress. Conversely, the brain can also influence the gut. For instance, psychological stress can affect the function of the digestive system, leading to changes in bowel habits and increased sensitivity to pain. Similarly, mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can impact the gut microbiome,
FEED YOUR BRAIN:
- Folate: Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is a vital nutrient that plays a critical role in brain function and mental health, important in regulating mood, behavior, and cognitive function. Low levels of folate in the body are associated with an increased risk of depression and other mood disorders. In fact, supplementation with folate has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in some individuals, particularly those with folate deficiency. Moreover, folate is critical for brain development during fetal and early childhood stages. Pregnant women who do not get enough folate are at risk of having babies with neural tube defects, which can affect brain development and lead to cognitive impairment and other neurological problems.
Dietary Intervention: Before getting pregnant and during your first trimester, we recommend you take a folate supplement. In terms of diet, include leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and arugula in your snacks, salads, and omelets. Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas), asparagus, avocado, broccoli, citrus fruits, brussels sprouts, nuts & seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds), and whole grains are all nutrient-dense foods high in folate.
- Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays an important role in mental health. It is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, and sleep, and is often referred to as the “feel-good” chemical. Serotonin helps to reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress and promotes feelings of happiness and well-being. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. They must come from food.
Dietary Intervention: Turkey, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and eggs, can boost the production of these stress-reducing chemicals.
- Another essential nutrient for brain health is Omega-3 fats. These are key nutrients in reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation leads to many health problems, including increased stress and anxiety. Omega-3 fats regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are important for mood regulation and can affect stress levels. They are key in improving heart health, helping lower blood pressure, and reducing the physical effects of stress on the body. Finally, they are important for brain function and development. They have been shown to improve cognitive function and memory, which can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Dietary Intervention: Include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts in your diet.
- Bring back the carbs. Complex carbohydrates play a crucial role in brain function by supplying glucose to the brain. Despite the brain only weighing 2% of our body mass, it consumes an astonishing 50% of our glucose supply. Nonetheless, it’s vital to be selective about the types of carbohydrates consumed.
Dietary Intervention: Don’t be lured by sugary sweets and refined treats (ditch the Pop Tarts and cinnamon buns). Choose complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, whole-grain bread, brown rice, pasta, as well as a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t forget your pre and probiotics. Prebiotics and probiotics strengthen the gut-brain axis connection, supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. They can help reduce inflammation (chronic inflammation has been linked to many mental health conditions including depression and anxiety), improve the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, and improve cognitive function (such as memory and attention). As we mentioned earlier, gut health is key to mental health
Dietary Intervention: Try broccoli and kraut slaw, asparagus with manchego cheese, yogurt with cut-up apple, dark chocolate and banana (Yes. You read that right!), a Greek yogurt berry smoothie. So many delicious choices
Simply consuming these different foods may not be enough to improve mental health. Other factors, such as stress, inflammation, and nutrient deficiencies, can also affect the body’s ability to produce and use serotonin effectively. It’s important to seek out medical help if you are feeling anxious and depressed. We are a team of expert prenatal nutritionists, women, mothers, and professionals. We all know how hard it is to balance work, raising kids, and staying healthy. We know how overwhelming things can get. We can empower you to choose the best foods for your individual needs and maintain a healthy and balanced diet. We can provide you with easy-to-follow, budget meal plans to help you feel better. A nutrition plan is just one component of a comprehensive mental health plan, and it should not be relied upon as the sole solution to mental health problems.