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Q Recently I was introduced to a blog online discussing how nutrition can be used to help people with depression. I do struggle with depression but don’t know if this is a reliable resource? KV, Greenville
A Thanks so much for asking. Indeed, we are bombarded by both good and bad information on social media. There is no sure-fire way to know if a blogger is providing credible nutrition information or not. However, the experts who study bloggers and nutrition information say there are some warning signs of possible misinformation. For example, some bloggers use their name in the title of the blog. But, if a nutrition blogger doesn’t separate their personal voice from the recommendations, and uses emotions or hyperbole, they may not be credible. Austin Rice, a fourth-year Brody Medical student was intrigued by your question and agreed to share what he learned about nutritional psychiatry and blogs about mental health. Here is what Austin wants you to know.
The blogger you asked about referenced “nutritional psychiatry.” It piqued my interest, because if how we eat is linked to mental health, then physicians, registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN), and other health care professionals would have a great tool to help people improve the way they feel.
The term “nutritional psychiatry” is a fairly new term and does appear in scientific and medical literature. It is used to describe the impact the way an individual eats over time has on conditions like depression, anxiety and dementia. Importantly at this time, researchers have not found that eating a specific food or spice or diet can be the “magic bullet” to preventing mental health issues. They have found that following a healthy eating pattern, like one that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish may help both protect against developing depression as well as relieve some of the symptoms.
It may be that some of the foods that are mentioned by bloggers like red peppers, fish roe, kefir, dark chocolate, clams, olive oil, cinnamon and turmeric may have a chemical compound or compounds that can contribute positively to mental health. But they need to be consumed as part of an overall healthy diet. Experts know there is a synergy among nutrients and other food components, but they are not yet fully understood.
What we do know is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish or lean meats, and whole grains contains all the nutrients the body and mind need to stay healthy. The right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals are used by our bodies to keep them healthy, to build things the body uses for growth, metabolism, DNA, and keep our brains running smoothly.
There also are studies that show poor mood regulation and stress are linked with obesity and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. So, following a healthy eating pattern like DASH or the Mediterranean diet can help prevent or manage those chronic conditions and thereby improve mental health. Researchers in the field of nutritional psychiatry found that patients who follow the Mediterranean diet pattern more closely, report improved mental health compared with those who do not.
If you are unsure how to follow a healthy Mediterranean diet while living in eastern North Carolina, seek the assistance of an RDN. An RDN can help you tailor a diet for your mental and physical health, food preferences and budget. It might include turmeric or olive oil or dark chocolate — food items that you can eat on a regular basis. If you use nutrition as medicine, you need to use it daily — just as you would prescription medications. You can make a start on your own: include a vegetable at each meal, replace a red meat dish with a chicken dish, or switch out fruits for sweets, or use an oil-based salad dressing.
Nutritional and mental health is a topic we will hear more about in the future. In my future practice, I will encourage my patients to use credible evidence to improve their mental health. So, if you are looking for credible nutrition blogs, remember to look for the evidence and not just opinions. Avoid those that use emotion and extremes, recommend quick fixes or include dire warnings. Read critically those blog posts that label foods as good or bad. If they quote “influencers” as a source, consider how likely the influencer is to have access to sound nutrition advice.
Avoid bloggers who sell products or diets. Before you change your diet based on a blogger’s recommendations, try to check the sources of information through Google Scholar or PubMed or ask your doctor or dietitian. Unfortunately, just because the “blogger” calls him or herself a physician or nutritionist doesn’t actually mean they are or that they give credible, practical healthy eating information.
Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at [email protected].