Satiating the mental munchies

There is a universal understanding that diet and food can affect muscle, but what about mental muscle?

Links between diet and mental health is a relatively new field. There is the obvious reason people only hear about diet and its effects on the physical plane. With that being said, new research is steadily emerging to suggest food’s power to the metaphysical. An international group of scientists – all of whom are members of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research – argue that diet is “as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.”

Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia, conducted a 2011 analysis of more than 5,000 Norwegians and found lower rates of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder among those who ate a traditional diet of meat and vegetables than those on a modern Western diet of processed and fast foods. A “traditional diet” is considered the type of foods your grandmother would recognize.

Berk also concurs with the hype regarding a Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts and fish. A Norwegian diet of fish, shellfish, game, root vegetables, dairy products and whole-wheat bread, as well as a Japanese diet of fish, tofu and rice, appear to be just as effective.

Washington State University’s dietitian Julie Keller weighed in on what servings for your psyche she would like to see.

“There has been compelling evidence of a link between depression and Omega-3 fats. I won’t say Omega-3 fats cure or alleviate depression, but it can help reduce symptoms. Foods high in Omega-3 fats are salmon, nuts, cheese, nut butter, olive oil, canola oil and avocado. Vitamin D and depression has also been linked together. We do have people come in and get that checked, and we will give them supplements. Milk, yogurt, eggs and some cereal are Vitamin D fortified. Nobody should be consuming less than 1,200 calories a day, but restricting your food intake might give people worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety. High Caffeine also has links with high anxiety,” Keller said

“Lean proteins help with serotonin balance. Small doses of protein throughout the day are much more beneficial than one large intake of it. Leafy greens contain folic acid and B-12 which assist with depression and fatigue. B-12 can also be found in animal products, and in cereal for anyone that doesn’t eat animal products.”

“It is hard to conclusively prove a cause and effect relationship between diet and mental health. That’s why it is a newer field and the public doesn’t hear much about it. We can associate Omega-3 or Vitamin D with why someone might be feeling better, but it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause. There is more research being done about the topic, but good research takes time. It will be a combination of psychologists, medical doctors and nutritionists.”

Berk also conducted a study with 23,000 mothers and their children. He found a strong correlation between a pregnant mother’s consumption of sweets and processed foods and behavioral mental health issues of the child at age 5.

Linda A. Lee, director of Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center, states, “There is a two-way street between what’s going on in the gut and what’s going on in the brain.”

With more than 450 million people globally suffering from some type of mental illness, food and diet may just be the answer. Just remember to take everything with a grain of salt.

Daniel Anderson is a freshman studying hospitality and business management from Bellevue. He can be contacted at 335-1140 or by [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.