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May is Mental Health Month

Allison Benson, RD, LRD, Program Assistant

May has been recognized as Mental Health Month since 1949. Certain behaviors can cause mental health issues to develop or increase. Some of these behaviors include prescription drug misuse, marijuana use, troublesome exercise patterns, excessive eating routines, risky sex, internet/gaming addiction and excessive spending.

Young people are especially at risk. In fact, about half of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder sometime in their life, with first onset usually in childhood or adolescence.

Thankfully, we can take action to care for our minds and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Research has shown that eating certain foods may be helpful in reducing symptoms of mental health disorders.

  • Fatty Fish – Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines, contains omega-3s. Omega-3s have an effect on the production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for our moods), including dopamine and serotonin. Fatty fish has been shown to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and others in research studies.
  • Whole Grains – The primary source of energy for the brain is glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. Complex carbs, such as whole grain products, oats, wild rice, barley and beans, are absorbed slowly and help us provide a steady fuel source for our brain.
  • Leafy Greens – Leafy greens such as spinach, romaine, turnip and mustard greens, and broccoli are high in folate (the natural form of the B vitamin folic acid), as are beets and lentils. Deficiencies in folate as well as other B vitamins have been linked with higher rates of depression, fatigue and insomnia.
  • Yogurt – Fermented foods, such as yogurt with active cultures, kefir, kimchi, tempeh and certain pickled vegetables, contain probiotics (healthy bacteria). Probiotics have been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and stress hormones and affect the neurotransmitter GABA.

Making diet changes won’t be sufficient for everyone and should not be used as a substitute for other forms of treatment. If you’re struggling with symptoms of a mental health disorder, talk to a therapist or your family physician.


Filed under: fca newsletter

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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