Food + Mental & Physical Health

I was listening to the radio while running errands this weekend when I heard a local DJ lament the 10lbs he had gained since the pandemic lock-down started in March. He gained the weight despite running and biking regularly to replace his gym time. He chalked up his additional weight to the comfort food he kept cooking and buying. He ended his rant by saying: “Hey if 10 extra pounds is the price I have to pay for an improved mood and a general feeling of contentment, that’s a fair trade in my books.”

This DJ got me thinking about the

.role food plays in health – mental and physical. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to discuss this with the HCLDR community on the next chat.

What’s your comfort food?

During this pandemic there has been a few comfort foods that have found their way onto our kitchen table more often than not:

  • Sushi
  • Pizza from our favorite local non-chain pizza joint
  • Turkey soft tacos
  • Chicken parmigiana
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches

When these are served, everyone around our table is instantly in a better mood. With pizza, for example, we talk about all the great pizza we’ve eaten on our various trips to New York City, Chicago, Halifax and Montreal. While we are at the dinner table, we are transported back to our fun family road trips.

I’m curious to know what your pandemic comfort food is.

Food + Mental Health

Back in 2018, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) here in Toronto published a story The emerging link between food and mental health. I remember being fascinated by it at the time. In the story, CAMH Registered Dietitian Kelly Matheson stated:

“People are now realizing there is not only a psychological connection but a biochemical and physical connection between what we eat, the way it makes us feel and our mental health. If we think about common illnesses like diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease, there’s talk about how nutrition directly impacts these diseases and how you can reduce your risk by eating certain foods, following certain diet patterns and the same can be said about mental health.”

A lot of study has been done in this field of nutritional psychiatry and in a review article published late in 2019, the authors found the following: “Emerging findings from intervention studies suggest that diet (often combined with lifestyle) modification has potential in the prevention and treatment of mental health and may modify drug treatment effects.”

Food advice is like medical advice

While there is general agreement that food has an impact on health, the specific foods and their impact on health is often contradictory and confusing. Carbs are good. Carbs are bad. Dairy is good, but not too much. Fruits are good for you, but too much sugar can be harmful…or is it just refined sugar? You get the idea.

If you think about it, food advice is much like medical advice. Search on the Internet and you’re bound to find all sorts of theories and remedies being touted by experts. But who can you trust? How can you tell good food advice from bad? As in medicine are there certain publications or experts that we should follow?

On HCLDR we often talk about the need for health literacy. It sounds like we need something similar for food/nutrition literacy.

Food insecurity

We couldn’t have a discussion on food-as-medicine on HCLDR without dedicating time to talk about food insecurity – something that, unfortunately, is a growing challenge as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) defines food insecurity as follows:

Food insecurity is defined as the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources. Food insecurity does not necessarily cause hunger, but hunger is a possible outcome of food insecurity. Food insecurity may be long term or temporary. It may be influenced by a number of factors including income, employment, race/ethnicity, and disability. The risk for food insecurity increases when money to buy food is limited or not available.

Because of COVID-19, food insecurity is on the rise. Local foodbanks and other charities have tried to fill the gap brought on by COVID. For months, comedian Seth Meyers and his show Late Night with Seth Meyers has been bring attention to food insecurity and helping to encourage donations to City Harvest – a charity that has a goal of ending hunger in New York City.

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I’ve even heard stories about landlords helping struggling tenants with groceries and neighbors cooking meals for those that have lost their jobs.

I can’t help but wonder if there are better long-term solutions to food insecurity?

HCLDR Chat

Join me on the next HCLDR weekly tweetchat, Tuesday September 22nd at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) when we will discuss food + health:

  • T1 What has been your go-to-comfort foods during this pandemic?
  • T2 How does food affect your mental and physical health? Did you learn this on your own or through someone/something else?
  • T3 Where do you turn for trusted food+health advice? Doctor? Nutritionist? Internet sources?
  • T4 How might we address food insecurity in a more sustainable way?

Resources

Canton, Hilary. “The emerging link between food and mental health”, CAMH, 30 August 2018, https://www.camh.ca/en/camh-news-and-stories/the-emerging-link-between-food-and-mental-health,

Adan, Roger et al. “Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat”, European Neuropsychopharmacology, December 2019, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924977X19317237,

Clay, Rebecca. “The link between food and mental health”, American Psychological Association, September 2017, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/food-mental-health,

Firth, Joseph et al. “Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?”, BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 29 Jun. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7322666/,

Selhub, Eva. “Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food”, Harvard Health Publishing, 16 November 2015, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

“The Foods We Eat Do Affect Our Mental Health. Here’s the Proof.”, Psychology Today, 24 January 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evidence-based-living/202001/the-foods-we-eat-do-affect-our-mental-health-heres-the-proof,

“Food and mood”, Mind, https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/about-food-and-mood/,

“3 ways food can help your mental health during COVID-19”, UC Davis Health, https://health.ucdavis.edu/good-food/blog/3-ways-food-can-help-mental-health-during-covid-19.html,

Grande, Laura. “10 Best Foods (And 5 Worst) for Your Mental Health and Wellness”, Food Network Canada, 5 January 2020, https://www.foodnetwork.ca/healthy-eating/photos/best-worst-foods-for-mental-health/#!bananas-sore-throat,

“The Fallacies Of Fat”, NPR, 11 January 2013, https://www.npr.org/2013/01/11/169144853/the-fallacies-of-fat,

Secemsky, Brian. “Breaking It Down: Controversy Over The U.S. Dietary Guidelines”, Huffington Post, 23 June 2016, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/breaking-it-down-controve_b_10622814,

Bauer, Lauren. “The COVID-19 crisis has already left too many children hungry in America”, Brookings Institute, 6 May 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/05/06/the-covid-19-crisis-has-already-left-too-many-children-hungry-in-america/,

Kinsey, Eliza W et al. “COVID-19 and Food Insecurity: an Uneven Patchwork of Responses.” Journal of Urban Health, 5 June 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7274516/,

Chilton, Mariana, and Donald Rose. “A rights-based approach to food insecurity in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health, July 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696644/,

Image Credit

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Photo by Vita Marija Murenaite on Unsplash

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