6 Ways Your Food Choices Can Help Lower Stress and Support Mental Health
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 21, 2021 Certified Nutritionist, dietician, dietitian, dietitian nutritionist, dietitian nutritionist near me, food for anxiety, food for depression, food for mood, healthy eating, healthy food, nutrition, Nutrition Counseling, Nutritionist, registered dietitian, registered licensed dietitian0 comments
There are no magic foods for boosting your mood. But when Registered Dietitian Kali Alrutz works with patients at the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, she often begins by telling them that a healthy diet can really help support their mental health, as well as their physical health.
Kidsburgh asked Alrutz for advice on how Pittsburgh families can use healthy food and drink to help manage stress. Here are her tips:
- Choose good proteins: Many people get their protein from meat, Alrutz says, and that can be good — especially if you’re choosing leaner meats like chicken. But our brains get a boost from fish and also from nuts, because these foods offer healthy fats including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties, and “help our moods, help our brains function and think more clearly.” Along with eating fresh or roasted nuts, she also recommends buying nuts in bulk and blending them to make your own nut butters. Beans of all kinds are also great choices.
- Make better snacks: Leafy greens are great for brain health. If your kids aren’t big fans of cooked greens or salads, try making homemade kale chips. Lots of easy recipes are available online — simply spread kale on a roasting pan and sprinkle with a bit of salt or any spices your family likes, then roast at low heat until kale leaves are crunchy. You can also make great brain-healthy snacks with chickpeas (also known as garbanzos). Dry them with a paper towel, then toss them with just a bit of oil and spread them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper or any seasonings you like, then roast them in the oven at 425 degrees until crispy, about 30 minutes. “These types of foods will give you tons of fiber,” Alrutz says. They’re great protein sources that are low in saturated fats and “high in your poly- and mono-unsaturated fats that are very good for your brain.”
- Stay hydrated: When we get dehydrated, it impacts our brain function and mood regulation. But if we drink plenty of water, research shows that we can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety. Rather than relying on sweetened soft drinks, make water a central part of your day. And take time to notice if you’re feeling thirsty.
- Keep sugar limited: Although sugar can make us feel better in the short run, “regulating your blood sugar levels is another really important idea,” she says. “Your insulin resistance also has an effect on your stress levels.” Eating sugary foods can temporarily drive blood sugar levels up, but invariably those levels will drop. That affects adults and kids physically and mentally. “With low blood sugar, you might become a little bit more irritable or you might not be able to concentrate,” and that can impact overall stress levels in a household.
- Try new foods and new recipes: “Variety is really important,” Alrutz says, “because every food that we consume provides us with a different vitamin or a different mineral or some type of benefit to our system.” Beyond restricting your vitamin intake, eating the same foods all the time can get boring, making mealtime feel even more like a chore and adding stress. So try looking online for healthy recipes that will be easy to make and appealing to you and your kids. Bonus: If kids get to choose new recipes and help shop for ingredients, that can help get them excited about cooking and make mealtime less stressful for the whole family.
- Eat consciously: So often people grab a meal on the run. Or we’re busy working or doing something else while eating. Alrutz says that if we slow down even for a few minutes and notice our meal, we’ll feel better physically and mentally. “A lot of people tend to overlook mealtimes because it kind of takes a backseat. We have busy lives, right? We have a lot going on. But, you know, we need the fuel. We need that energy to make sure that we’re mentally stable and managing our stress levels.”
Kali is looking forward to helping you achieve your goals. Whether it is something you have been wanting to do for a while, or recently decided to seek professional assistance, she is here for you. With personalized nutrition therapy, guidance, and support to help you throughout your journey to better health and overall wellness, Kali will be there every step of the way to help you succeed.
Kali provides in-person therapy in our South Hills location. If you’re interested in working with Kali, you can reach us at 412-322-2129 or email us at email@example.com to get started. Or contact us here.
This story was originally published by Kidsburgh.org, the nonprofit news website where families in the Pittsburgh region can discover local resources and expert advice on raising healthy, thriving children in southwestern PA. You can sign up for their free newsletter here.Learn More
28 Foods to Decrease Anxiety and Depression & Enhance Positive Moods
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 31, 2018 food for anxiety, food for depression, food for mood0 comments
Food & Mood Series by Liz Mckinney, CNS, Board Certified Nutritionist
“It is both compelling and daunting to consider that dietary intervention at an individual or population level could reduce rates of psychiatric disorders. There are exciting implications for clinical care, public health, and research” – editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09060881
Mood imbalances like depression and anxiety are on the rise in the U.S. In 2016, the National Institute for Mental Health estimated that 16.2 million Americans have experienced at least one major depressive episode and 42 million have an anxiety disorder of some kind. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml Additionally, depression is the leading cause of disability globally. Traditionally, depression and anxiety are viewed as being caused by chemical imbalances, due to under production of our feel good neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. Lets explore how food is related to emotional health and how we can put ourselves at risk for developing anxiety or depression with our diet, as well as the good news of how diet can increase of mood, energy, and all around wellness.
So what factors contribute to a drop in the production of neurotransmitters? Biologically, this question has a multi-tiered answer. First, genetics and epigenetics (namely, how our environmental exposures affect which of our genes become activated) certainly play a role in a person’s proclivity towards depression and anxiety. For example, a common genetic mutation called MTHFR has a big impact in how we activate the B vitamin folate in our cells. Those with this genetic mutation are more prone to depression because of folate’s role in making serotonin. But, we know that our genetics don’t tell the whole story. The second factor influencing the expression of our genes, are our mental and emotional stressors or triggers, this is the part that can be effected by our social supports and reduced with therapy. Social factors and cognitive perceptions contribute significantly to the onset of these common mood disorders.
The Standard American Diet, which is low in fiber, healthy fats and protein and packed full of cheap, convenient sugar laden foods means we have less of the amino acid building blocks we need to make GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. A second issue to consider is that poor gut health is directly linked to worsened mood disorders thanks to the two-way gut-brain connection. Intake of processed snack foods packed with sugar, flour, and trans fat are like pouring gasoline on the fire and promote overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast in our gut where up to 80% of our body’s serotonin is produced. Eating poor quality proteins or simply not enough further compound the issue because proteins are the building blocks for these important compounds that keep our moods stable. Grain fed, factory farmed eggs and meats and genetically modified crops are not only loaded with toxins and pesticides that alter our microbiomes, they serve to ramp up that low grade chronic inflammation. Finally, fiber intake has never been lower thanks to the standard American diet. Fiber rich foods serve as probiotics that feed the beneficial bacteria in our large intestine. Without fuel, the good “bugs” are more likely to die off, leaving room for the pathogenic species to flourish. Our bacteria send signals to our brains, so we want our good bacteria to dominate and send signals that promote brain health, not cause further chemical imbalances and inflammation.
Now time for the empowering news! The food we eat can also improve mood, and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Food can be a kind of internal therapy, by nourishing organs, healing of stomach linings and then increasing energy and brain health, they have a huge impact on decreasing ones susceptibility to relapsing from mental health disorders.
- High quality proteins
- Cage-free Eggs
- Grass-fed Beef and
- Chicken raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.
Vegan or vegetarian
- Non-GMO soy
- Vegetable proteins like legumes, pea chia, or hemp.
- Fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, or sauerkraut which contain live organisms that populate the microbiome with beneficial bacteria.
The above mentioned foods promote emotional and physical health by keeping the gut happy and healthy. As a word of caution, avoid processed, packaged snack foods at all costs and focus on whole, unprocessed foods like promote a good mood. Here are some more delicious options to add to your daily diet that calm inflammation and support mood:
- Dark Chocolate (70% or darker)
- Vitamin B rich foods – eggs, raw dairy, grass fed beef, and organic chicken and turkey, leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard, and bananas
- Red, Purple, and Blue Berries – Contain Vitamin C and other antioxidants
- Omega 3s – wild caught fatty fish (2 servings weekly), walnuts and flax seed
- Coconut oil
As a final note, understanding mood disorders is complex and the underlying factors multi-tiered. Everyone is unique and requires and individualized approach that takes into account genetics and epigenetics, mental and emotional health and diet and lifestyle. When all three are addressed, we are better able to address mood disorders and provide the best outcomes. If you want to learn more about health enhancing diets and what foods can support emotional and physical health, meet with a board certified and licensed nutritionist, our nutritionist, Liz Mckinney, CNS accepts Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance as well as self paying clients.