Nutrition, Exercise and Mental Health from NYC Registered Dietitian

Mental Health

In 1949, May was designated Mental Health Awareness Month by Mental Health America, with the intention of helping Americans better understand prevention, early identification, and intervention through a variety of information sources. 

The numbers are alarming. According to NAMI, approximately 1 in 5 adults (almost 44 million) experiences mental illness in a given year and 1 in 5 youth aged 13 – 18 experience serious mental illness in a given year. Millions of Americans live with mental health disorders every single day. Nevertheless, mental health disorders carry a stigma other diseases don’t. There continues to be a lack of understanding and compassion. Because of this, someone suffering with a mental health disorder is less likely to seek help. 

Though exercise and nutrition advice from this blog is not a substitute for visiting your health care professional if you think you or someone else is living with a mental health disorder, it’s been scientifically proven that the healthier we eat and live, the healthier our brains will be. Mental health problems are physiological, so it goes to reason that what we eat, what we put in our bodies, and how we use our bodies also affect the function of our brains.

Mental Health Facts

Here are 6 nutrition and exercise tips for better brain health in May.

  1. Get help immediately. Go see your healthcare professional if you think you or someone you love is living with a mental health disorder. Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you or someone you know is a suicide risk. 
      1. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 – 800 – 273 – TALK (8255)
      2. Crises text line: Text “MHA” to 741-741
      3. Find a support group. 
  2. Got a gut feeling? Gut health is directly linked to brain health. How so? 95% of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in our guts. Prebiotics and probiotics play a key role in keeping our intestinal tracts healthy. It’s the symbiosis of the two that really makes a difference.  Start up your day with yogurt and a banana. For lunch, have grilled asparagus with manchego cheese. Find ways to incorporate both into your daily meals.salmon
  3. Bring on the Omega 3! Omega 3 fats are essential throughout our lifetimes for optimal brain health. This Harvard Health blog discusses how Omega 3 can help treat depression and mood disorders. Fatty fish and fish oil supplements are the most common ways to introduce Omega 3 into your diet. Other options include adding chia, hemp and flax – these super seeds – to our salads, soups, and other foods.
  4. Vitamin B12 is one of the 8 essential B vitamins. “Essential” means that our bodies don’t naturally produce it, so we need to consume it. It’s key to keeping our brains and nervous systems working well – needed for memory, focus, and concentration. Long-term B12 deficiency can cause pernicious anemia (which is irreversible), memory loss, depression, anxiety, and, ultimately, permanent nerve and brain damage. Most at-risk for B12 deficiency are vegans and vegetarians, people over 60 (who can’t cleave B12 from animal foods), people who live with eating disorders. B12 is found in meat products, shell fish, fortified breakfast cereal, low-fat dairy products, and eggs. Check with your health care professional, as you might need to take a supplement.Sandwich
  5. Low cholesterol beware! Cholesterol has long been on the public’s watch list. Cholesterol – good cholesterol – is essential to many functions in the body. Too low cholesterol is problematic with depression and mood disorders. Stop. Don’t grab the bacon. I’m not saying you should start a high-fat binge. Simply put, the body needs good fats – avocadoes, nuts, eggs, olive oil, cheese, oily fish, chia seeds, even dark chocolate. Those who have unhealthy, too low-fat eating behaviors might be at risk for depression.
  6. Just walk away. As if walking could cure depression, right? Depression and mental illness physically suck energy from people. This is not imagined! That said, exercise boosts blood circulation which influences the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and consequently influences a person’s physiologic reactivity to stress. Simply put, movement improves mental health. 

Mental health awareness is key to prevention and treatment. These millions of people aren’t making it up! We need to start talking about it. We need to learn about how healthy nutrition and exercise choices help boost our brain health. We especially need to know that we, or our loved ones dealing with mental health problems, aren’t alone.