MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s an emerging field of psychology called “nutritional psychology” focused on making the link between what people eat and how they feel.
“That’s using food and supplements to feed your brain those essential nutrients and modulate things so you can have less depression, less anxiety and a better focused mind,” says Dr. Timothy Culbert, a developmental pediatrician at PrairieCare.
He works with young people who deal with anxiety, depression and ADHD and has found that in about half his patients, changes to diet can have a positive impact. Some of the children supplement diet changes with traditional therapy and medication, while others use diet changes when other treatments haven’t been successful.
“My version of happy foods would be food that in the long run feeds your mind and body in a way that’s healthy and sustainable,” he says.
To Dr. Culbert, that means something more than just eating brightly-colored fruits and vegetables – though, those would be considered “happy foods” as well.
When it comes to anxiety, he says foods with magnesium can have a calming effect on the nervous system. Those would include avocados, black beans, cashews, almonds, tofu, whole grains, dark chocolate and quinoa.
He also recommends people with anxiety eat more often to stabilize blood sugar levels. He says low blood glucose can trigger stress and emotional reactivity.
When it comes to helping against depression, Dr. Culbert suggest people focus on foods that are anti-inflammatory.
“Depression, at least for many people, is driven by a process called inflammation,” he says. “The biggest source of inflammation for most of us is our diet.”
A Mediterranean diet contains lots of anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, olive oils, whole grains and fish – with moderate dairy and limited red meat.
He also suggests people dealing with depression try probiotics because research has shown the brain and gut are intimately connected.
As for children and adults with ADHD, Dr. Culbert advises patients to add in healthy proteins, more fruits and vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish, walnuts and flax seed. Those help to build healthy brain structure.
He says the research in this field of nutritional psychology is still coming along.
“It’s not something that’s impressive enough that mainstream mental health professional have embraced all these ideas,” Dr. Culbert says. “But, I think there’s enough evidence that we can try the idea.”