Nutrition for Mental Health

It’s an old adage that borders on cliché, but according to Dr. Joey Shulman, it’s also true in more ways than one. The food you put in
your mouth doesn’t only affect your physical health, she says. It also has the power to affect your mental health. And that, for any young woman, is major. In a recent focus group study by Youth Net – a program for youth promoting mental health – 51 per cent of teens claimed to be totally depressed at least once a month. If the first step to battling depression was making simple adjustments to your diet, would you do it? Shulman suggests that in many cases, that may be all it takes.
    “You are what you eat, both physically and mentally. I don’t think people are tapped into that yet, because the number one symptom that I’m presented with is fatigue,” says Shulman, vice president of Truestar Health, North America’s largest online health site, and author of The Last 15, a new book that looks at healthy ways to change eating habits and lose weight.
    Fatigue, attention deficit and moodiness can all take their cues from diet, and not just over the long term—what you eat during any given day can affect what you’re feeling during that same 24-hour period. According to Shulman, it’s a correlation that can see you eating fast food for lunch then hitting a massive 3 p.m. slump – complete with intense fatigue and moodiness – that very afternoon. “You want to eat foods that are going to keep your blood sugar at a steady point,” adds Grace Van Berkum, nutritionist and personal trainer at Revolution Fitness in Toronto. “Eating foods that are refined or high in sugar, high in fat will raise your blood sugar and then drop it. So that will cause irritability, low energy levels, and even things like depression.”
    Which is, of course, just the beginning of the cycle: eating the wrong foods can make you feel lethargic and depressed, which in turn has you looking for quick energy boosters like sugary snacks, which will bring your energy levels up but only for a short period of time. “What comes up must come down,” Shulman says. “You’ll crash.”
    Scientific research ties diet and mood so closely, the doctor adds, that dietary changes may be helpful – and a first step before considering pre-scription drugs – even for those with severe mood swings.
    Says Shulman: “The research on depression, attention deficit, and nutritional connection is so strong that, while I’m not saying never go on a medication, I’m saying try your natural options first.”

So what kinds of foods should you eat during the day to keep your energy level, mood, and ability to focus in tune? Here’s what Dr. Shulman suggests:

Make sure to add a source of protein to every meal—even breakfast. This will help keep your blood sugar even, and your energy consistent throughout the day. Try eggs, natural peanut butter, yogurt or cheese.

Carbohydrates: Carbs – the good, nutrient-rich kind – are necessary to keep both your energy and mood up. These include simple carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, as well as complex carbs like whole-grain breads and pastas.

Omega-3 fatty acids:
The brain needs regular doses of good fats like omega-3 to function smoothly, Dr. Shulman says. Get omega-3 from sources like fish, walnuts, flax, and omega-3 fortified eggs. A daily supplement may also help.

Tryptophan: This amino acid is found in most proteins and is a biochemical precursor to several brain chemicals responsible for mood control. It’s found in a range of foods, including meat and poultry, cheese, fish, chickpeas, peanuts, sunflower seeds, bananas and chocolate.

At the right dose, folate has been shown to help create
serotonin, a compound linked to mood control in the brain. It’s found
in foods like spinach, sunflower seeds and fortified grains and cereals.

In addition to all of these, Shulman also suggests a good quality multi-vitamin for both physical and mental health. Also important for keeping those moods even: exercise. At least half an hour daily, the doctor
suggests, will help keep you in good spirits.

DON’T BE SADSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a change in mood, energy and appetite that many of us experience during the winter, finding relief only with the start of spring. Even if you don’t get the winter woes, here’s a sample menu to ease your
seasonal transition and keep blood sugar levels balanced:

Muesli with yogurt and mixed berries (if available) OR two scrambled eggs with steamed asparagus or spinach on a rye bagel.

Chicken salad with a light dressing OR baked potato
with a topping of hummus, 1/2 ripe avocado and alfalfa sprouts.

Grilled salmon with brown rice and salad OR quinoa with roast vegetables.

Dessert: 1/2 cup frozen yogurt with nuts or chopped banana.

Suggested Snacks:
Summer cherries or a winter apple with a handful of raw almonds will do for a morning mini-meal. Try raw carrots dipped in hummos for an afternoon pick-me-up.

— from The Kitchen Shrink by Natalie Savona (Duncan Baird London), $50 @