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Food and Your Mood - Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month - a time devoted to building awareness of the symptoms of mental illness, and how we can work together to support one another, gain access to community programs, and seek help from professionals.

According to information gathered by Mental Health America, we have been witnessing a massive need for mental health support in our country. Today, almost one in ten (9.7%) of youth in our country suffer from severe major depression. Even before covid-19, 19% of adults have experienced mental illness.

What does this have to do with Community Hunger Solutions, you may be wondering. The World Health Organization has been gathering data for decades, highlighting the correlation between poverty and mental health. This data suggests that the lower the income level of an individual, the more of a chance the individual will suffer from mental illness. Depression, for example, is 150 to 200% more common in low-income communities. It is also well established that if you are facing hunger, you are more likely to experience common mental disorders. The connection between poverty and mental health is thought to be cyclical. In the words of WHO “poverty increases the risk of mental disorders, and having a mental disorder increases the risk of descending into poverty.”

At Community Hunger Solutions, we work to look at issues of hunger from a systemic perspective - getting to the root of the issue by listening to those who experience hunger, and working to make change based on what is learned. We also work to provide high quality nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables to community members who do not have access to these foods otherwise.

We would like to thank Erica Burger DO, MPH, of Driftless Integrative Psychiatry, who has kindly written and shared the information below, detailing the ways that the foods we have access to can affect our mental health.

Food and Your Mood

Does it matter what we eat for our mental health? The answer happens to be yes - and it might matter more than we had previously thought. Your brain consumes more food than any other part of your body. A recent study found that participants who ate a diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lamb, and fish had a reduced risk of major depression and anxiety. On the other hand, a diet high in sugar and processed foods can increase an individual’s risk for developing depression. Eating for our brain can be delicious and joyful! It can be part of our self-care that we do every day to stay mentally well.

The reason why what we eat can affect brain health is because of the nutrients in the food. Certain foods tend to be higher in nutrients known to be “mood boosters”. According to the most current research, the top mood-boosting nutrients include:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids

  • Magnesium

  • Folate

  • Iron

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin C

  • Potassium

  • Selenium

  • Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin B6

  • Vitamin A

  • Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

So what foods give you the most bang for your buck, in terms of these mood-boosting nutrients?

1. Vegetables - Vegetables tend to be the best foods for your brain health. And in particular vegetables such as watercress (which can be found in spring-fed water in the area!), spinach, and fresh herbs, like basil, cilantro, or parsley. Committing to eating a salad with your lunch and dinner, adding greens to a morning smoothie, eating a few spoonfuls of fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut or kimchi), or having frozen vegetables on hand that are easy to prepare are all ways to boost your veggie intake. The more we fill up on vegetables, the less room we have for high sugar and processed foods.

2. Fish - Fish tend to be high in Omega 3 fatty acids and are a good source of protein. Wild-caught salmon (rather than farm-raised) and fish such as sardines, cod, tuna, trout, and walleye are highest in Omega 3 fatty acids.

3. Farm-raised eggs - Eggs from pasture-raised chickens have been found to be higher in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and vitamin D than regular eggs. They are also a source of choline and can easily be hard-boiled for a portable, filling snack.

Looking for cookbooks specifically focused on brain foods? These books can be checked out through the Viroqua Public Library:

  • Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety by Dr. Drew Ramsey, MD

  • Vegetables Unleashed by Andres and Matt Goulding

  • From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce

  • Ruffage by Abra Berens

-Erica Burger, DO, MPH, Driftless Integrative Psychiatry

Driftless Integrative Psychiatry, based out of Lansing Iowa, looks into root causes of your symptoms. There is time to discuss your concerns. Your voice is heard. Evidence-based treatment options are based on your needs and goals. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, nutritional psychiatry (food as medicine), targeted supplements, stress reduction techniques, psychotherapy, medication, and more.

If you are living with mental health challenges, we would like to encourage you to seek help and support. Check out these local resources to learn more:


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