The Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health

Learn how NEXDINE Hospitality can be a differentiator at your facility

Did you know that the brain consumes 20% of a person’s daily caloric intake, approximately 400 calories per day? In fact, it is composed of 60% fat and contains high concentrations of cholesterol and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) such as Omega-3s.

What is Serotonin? How is it Related to Nutrition and Mental Health?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, stabilize mood, and reduce pain. Recent evidence also suggests a link between low levels of serotonin and suicide. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system doesn’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions. The function of these neurons and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play an essential role in your health. They protect the lining of your intestines; ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria. In addition, they limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food; and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.

Nutritional Approaches to Reduce Depression and Anxiety:

Studies have compared the Mediterranean diet, to a typical “Western” diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower than the typical “Western” diet. The most common nutritional deficiencies seen in patients with mental disorders are of omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to those neurotransmitters we mentioned. Evidence gathered from demographic studies indicate there is a link between high fish consumption (a large component of the Mediterranean diet) and low incidence of mental disorders; this lower incidence rate being the direct result of omega 3 fatty acid intake. It is suggested that low glycemic index (GI) foods such as some fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pasta, etc. are more likely to provide a moderate but lasting effect on brain chemistry, mood, and energy level than the high glycemic index foods (processed and sugary foods).

A study led by Felice Jacka, PhD, director of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia followed 67 depressed adults. These individuals were randomly assigned to either a group composed of seven 1:1 nutritional counseling sessions over a 12-week time frame or a control group consisting of only social support. The dietitian helped participants adjust their diets, such as eating less junk food and more nutrient-rich foods such as fresh produce, fish, and legumes. Only 8 percent of the control group achieved remission from depression, while almost a third of the dietary intervention group did.

It is also important to highlight My food & Mood study, which showed that dietary changes related to the Mediterranean diet were associated with reduced depressive symptoms when a dietary intervention was provided. The dietary interventions can be summarized by a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts; moderate consumption of fish; and very low consumption of red and processed meats, refined grains, sweet desserts, and whole-fat dairy products and ultra-processed foods.

How Does NEXDINE fit in?

The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research has recommended that nutritional medicine be considered mainstream in psychiatric practice. Therefore, when choosing a dining provider like NEXDINE you can utilize our Culinary Commitments as another avenue to address behavioral health. Commitments like “We incorporate whole grains and legumes to promote nutritional balance” and “The use of fresh seasonal locally grown fruits and vegetables is a top priority” are two examples of NEXDINE’s food philosophy.

In addition, our Registered Dietitians and Culinarians have technology like our MealSuite menu platform at their fingertips. Our menu platform provides Registered Dietitians direct links to the USDA Database which allow them to know exactly how many calories, protein, fat, saturated fats and sugar there are in each menu item. Our recipes follow our Culinary Commitments with fresh, seasonal ingredients. NEXDINE Registered Dietitians work hand in hand with our culinary team to create menus customized to each facility and its patient/resident needs. NEXDINE keeps up with evidence-based trends to create dining programs specific to behavioral and mental health for our culinary and clinical teams to achieve a truly holistic approach to care.