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What is nutritional psychiatry?


What is nutritional psychiatry?

“You are what you eat.” That saying has been around for ages and chances are good that you’ve heard it before. 


However, have you stopped to think about what it actually means? The practice of nutritional psychiatry is about to change that for you. This approach to psychiatry takes the concept of “you are what you eat” and turns it into a way to approach issues with mental health. 


There is no denying that there is a major gap in the Western world between food and its connection to the brain. Though the science is there to prove it, step foot into a therapist's office, and rarely will you find the conversation centering around what food you put into your body. 


Thankfully, nutritional psychiatry is here to change the scene. 


Here, we get into the basics of nutritional psychiatry and why it may be something that you start implementing into your life today to help with mental health concerns. 


Mental health in the United States

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness. That encompasses all mental health conditions with a range of severity (Any Mental Illness also referred to as AMI). And it is a pretty overwhelming statistic. That means that if you think of 5 people you know, one of them is suffering from a mental illness, and you may not even know it. 


Thankfully, the concept of psychiatry and seeking help for issues with mental health is more socially acceptable now than it’s ever been. This means that people today feel less embarrassed or ashamed about their mental struggles than our relatives that came before us, and we are more willing to seek help. 


This provides great hope for the 20% of people in America who find that mental illness affects their life to some varying degree. 


And the introduction of the concept of nutritional psychiatry adds another layer of hope for some who find themselves suffering primarily from anxiety and depression. 


What is nutritional psychiatry?

Nutritional psychiatry is the practice of using food and diet to improve mental health. Numerous studies have been done to validate the connection between what you eat and how your brain functions and show that there is a strong link between using an improvement in diet to help treat major depressive episodes


The work of nutritional psychiatry is rooted in the concept that what we eat affects our mood. So, if you work with a nutritional psychiatrist for issues with anxiety or depression, your psychiatrist will use food as part of the treatment plan. 


How the brain and the gut are connected

The vagus nerve is the key to your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for a variety of different body functions including:


  • Mood
  • Digestion
  • Immune response
  • Heart rate


What makes the vagus nerve important to the topic of mental health is that it is one of the main connections between the brain and the gut. This nerve sends information between the two using neurotransmitters and hormones that live in your gut that are responsible for the things listed above.


Thus, what you put in your stomach affects how your brain functions. If you are filling your gut with processed food that causes inflammation, then your brain health suffers.    


How nutritional psychiatry changes the way you eat

In order to keep your mental health strong, it’s important to nourish your body with a diet that promotes brain health. 


Here are some key things to consider for your diet and, thus, your mental health. 


Limit sugar and processed foods

It’s not news that sugar and processed foods are bad for you. But most often they get a bad rep for causing you to gain weight. We are here to tell you that not only do they do that, but they can also wreak havoc on your brain health. 


When your gut is filled with this junk, your body becomes inflamed and reduces the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that our body uses to help regulate stress. 


Add in color

The more colorful your meals (natural colors, of course), the better. These foods have the fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body craves and needs.


Some of these key foods include:


  • Berries
  • Leafy greens
  • Dark chocolate
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli

Introduce probiotics

Good bacteria are key to the function of the gut and thus, the brain. One of the best ways to get that good bacteria is by introducing probiotics to your diet. This helps to increase the healthy flora in the gut which has been shown in studies to boost the mood.


You can get probiotics with a supplement or by adding in some of the following foods:


  • Kefir (no added sugar)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi

Limit alcohol and caffeine

Both alcohol and caffeine are substances that affect anxiety. While alcohol may make you feel calm in the moment, it dysregulates sleep which then results in higher levels of stress and anxiety. 


As for caffeine, it causes the brain to become overstimulated which means that the area that helps regulate anxiety gets all out of whack.


Don’t worry – we aren’t saying that you need to completely cut alcohol and caffeine. Instead, we are saying to limit your consumption.


Consume more omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in studies to help reduce inflammation in the brain, which can cause mental health issues. 


You can find omega-3s in:


  • Fish
  • Chia seeds
  • Seaweed
  • Flaxseeds
  • Walnuts
  • Kidney beans
  • And more


Nutritional psychiatry is the practice of incorporating diet changes in order to improve mental health. 


If your diet is rich in foods that cause inflammation and other health issues, your brain will suffer and you may find yourself dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. 


To keep your mental health in check and/or to help alleviate current struggles with mental health issues, consider making some of the following changes to your diet:


  • Limit sugar and processed foods
  • Add in color
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine
  • Introduce probiotics
  • Consume more omega-3 fatty acids