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  • Writer's pictureJill Maher Wellness

Nutrition for Mental Health

I recently took a course on nutrition and its impact on mental health through the University of Arizona's Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. We often focus on nutrition for weight loss or improving overall physical health, but we don't think about nutrition affecting mental health.

Needless to say, the course was very interesting, and I learned a great deal about just how devastating an ultra-processed diet can be for mental health. After almost two months in quarantine, most of us could use as much mental health support as possible!

The instructor was Dr. Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD from the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine. According to Dr. Kaplan, the brain is more dependent on optimal nutrition than any other organ. Meaning, if you are not eating a diet mostly consisting of a balance of whole-foods, you are more likely to experience mental health issues.

These mental health issues can include depression, irritability, lethargy, social withdrawal, inability to concentrate, etc. in both adults and children.

According to research, it is unknown if the increased mental health issues are due to the removal of important nutrients necessary for proper brain health or the addition of the ultra-processed foods. Either way, it is reason enough to steer clear of processed foods as much as possible and eat mostly nutrient-dense whole foods.

Dr. Kaplan shared that the human brain is about 2% of our body weight, but it represents anywhere between 20-50% of our metabolic demands. So, make sure you are fueling your brain with a diet rich in vitamins and minerals. If you're interested in knowing more about vitamins and minerals and their function in the body, this article provides a great overview including what food sources contain the specific vitamin or mineral. Every vitamin and mineral plays a role in brain function. When you are lacking any of them, it can contribute to mental health problems.

For more information on Dr. Kaplan's research on this topic and a much more detailed explanation on the science behind the correlation between nutrition and mental health, check out her website with numerous links to articles and videos related to this topic.

Brain-boosting Salmon Recipe:

Salmon with Spinach & White Beans


  • 4 salmon fillets (4 ounces each)

  • 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

  • 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  • 8 ounces organic fresh spinach

  • Lemon wedges


1. Preheat broiler. Rub fillets with 2 teaspoons oil; sprinkle with seafood seasoning. Place on a greased rack of a broiler pan. Broil 5-6 in. from heat 6-8 minutes or until fish just begins to flake easily with a fork.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 15-30 seconds or until fragrant. Add beans, salt and pepper, stirring to coat beans with garlic oil. Stir in spinach until wilted. Serve salmon with spinach mixture and lemon wedges.

Nutrition Facts 1 fillet with 1/2 cup spinach mixture : 317 calories, 17g fat (3g saturated fat), 57mg cholesterol, 577mg sodium, 16g carbohydrate (0 sugars, 5g fiber), 24g protein.

Diabetic Exchanges: 3 lean meat, 2 vegetable, 1 fat, 1/2 starch.

For more information and help achieving your health and nutrition goals, contact me today! I work in-person, by phone, or by Skype/FaceTime with my clients.

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