Nutrition, Mental Health, and Mindfulness

“What’s for dinner?” Did you know the nutritional quality of the food you consume can impact your mental health? In fact, there is a known correlation between a person’s diet and the part of the brain responsible for emotion, memory and motivation.

By Claire Alessi

Those who eat more nutritious foods demonstrate better emotional responses and improved memory, which can also stave off Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. And, if you are one of those people who enjoy eating a diet rich in “whole foods” such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, and unsaturated fats, you are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than those who eat less of those foods. Conversely, research also shows that regularly eating processed foods can increase your risk of developing depression as much as 65% and depression has been identified as one of the top five leading causes of disabilities. Nutrients that may play a role in combating depression include:

  • Vitamin B-12 and folate. Good sources of B-12 are salmon and trout. Folate is found in dark leafy vegetables, almonds, dairy and fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish like salmon, catfish and trout. Other sources include ground flaxseeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs.

And, it is not only beneficial to observe what’s for dinner, but how you eat your dinner. The term mindfulness, “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm”, has been gaining in popularity the last number of years. Having a mindfulness routine has been identified as a key practice to alleviating mental illness symptoms.

So what does mindful eating look like? In a very basic sense, mindful eating means eating slowly while noticing all the different sensory aspects of food such as taste, texture and aroma. Practicing mindfulness has proven to decrease stress and increase enjoyment. So it seems eating more nutritiously and mindfully, has its benefits. Here’s an exercise you can try to eat more mindfully – Eating an Orange Mindfully. Find a quiet space with limited distractions before beginning this exercise.

  1. 1Hold the orange in your hand and examine it. Look at the orange as if you have never seen an orange before—engaging the five senses as you eat the orange.
  2. Next, put the orange up to your nose and smell the aroma of the orange. Feel the texture of the orange peel.
  3. As you begin to peel the orange, notice the sound it makes as you peel it. Observe the aroma and how it continues to grow as you continue to peel it.
  4. Look closely at the peeled orange and notice the different colors and textures between the sections of orange and its white fibers.
  5. Pull apart the sections and gently place the orange in your mouth, letting it lie on your tongue first without taking a bite. Observe what you taste, feel, and recognize.
  6. Bite down on the orange and notice the flavor. Begin chewing and observe how the texture and consistency of the orange changes as you continue to chew.
  7. When ready, swallow the orange and be conscious of the act of swallowing. Attempt to observe this action as the orange moves down your throat to your stomach.
  8. Take time after this exercise to reflect on your experience and observations.