Ep 4: Nutritional Psychiatry: The Little-Known Link Between Good Nutrition and Mental Health

Published on: Apr 15, 2024

This episode is a candid exploration of the intricate dance between our plates and our mental states.

I’ll take you through…

  • 0:01:48 – Mental Wellness Story Background
  • 0:05:44 –  Importance of Nutrition in Mental Health
  • 0:10:32 – Boosting Mental Health through Nutrition
  • 0:15:11 – Foods for Improving Brain and Gut Health
  • 0:16:38 – Mission to Evolve Mental Health Care

Join the conversation and uncover how your next meal could be a step towards a brighter, more balanced you.

This episode was originally a blog post. Read the initial article here.




Please note that the following transcript was generated using AI technology. Yes, that means the transcript probably has a few minor mistakes.



Howdy friend, welcome to Unforked, an unfiltered holistic nutrition and mental wellness podcast for evolving folks that crave a delicious life of fulfillment. Haley, here I am, your host, a trauma-informed functional medicine dietician, holistic mental wellness coach and the founder of the Fulfilled Fork. On this show, we dish up insights and activations while learning about sustainable mind, body, soul lifestyle practices. It’s sweet, it’s savory and it’ll spice up your life. To stay connected, make sure you sign up for our Unforked email list at thefulfilledforkcom. Forward slash links. Let’s dig into the episode. All right, today we are reading a blog post. I am reading a blog post, I’m reading my blog post and this is, oh my gosh, I want to say, one of the first posts on the blog ever at all. Yeah, so we are going to read the blog post if it sounds like I’m reading. That’s why, if you’ve already read this blog post, feel free to stick around, because there’s probably going to be some stuff that I add. Actually, I can guarantee you that I’m going to add some stuff to this blog post. Audio version Wonderful. Well, let’s get into the article.


If you’re familiar with my mental wellness story which, if you were around for the last couple of episodes, you probably are quite familiar by now. If you haven’t heard the last couple episodes, please feel free. So this is like the trailer and episode one of the podcast. Go back to those episodes and you’ll get some more insight on my mental wellness story. You can also go to thefulfilledforkcom. It’ll be in the show notes, so don’t worry. But if you are familiar with my mental wellness story you know how badly I struggled with my mental health. It wasn’t until I began to understand the connection between nutrition and mental health that I learned to optimize my physical, psychological and emotional well-being All three of them, the trifecta, I feel like the sweet spot is when we are aware that all three impact to the degrees that they do and when we are optimizing our physical, psychological and emotional well-being. That’s pretty well-rounded. We’re doing great there. So that is also where the nutritional psychiatry entered the picture and that is eating, mood boosting foods and making other nutrition lifestyle changes for improved psychological well-being, so improved mental health.


At this point I had hit several rock bottoms, several rock bottoms over my journey and eventually I was able to feel basically go from feeling like complete shit all the time as my baseline, and I didn’t know how bad it was until I had felt until I finally felt something different. So basically, what happened is I went from feeling really low and crappy all the time to a completely different person where I didn’t even recognize, like, how it felt. Right, I felt amazing, it was great, and that was through the series of lifestyle changes, nutrition changes that I made. And I do want to add a caveat here it’s not that I feel amazing every single day, 24, seven. Right, I’m a human.


We all have moments of anxiety, we have bad days, depression can creep in again, and then we just go back to the work, right, the work being the physical, the psychological and emotional well-being tools, my toolbox. I go back to the work and that helps me get to the place where is my baseline and, above right, where at least I am not everybody is, but I am still in a place where I am growing and finding new baselines over time and just feeling better and better over time. Right, and I know that it can feel impossible, but I want you to know that you can feel that too. So I’m feeling like complete shit or as your baseline to then feeling amazing, whatever that means for you, and then that amazingness, the good mood feeling, can become more and more prolonged over time. So at first it’s kind of just like a blip. We’re like, oh my God, what was that? I don’t recognize that. And then all of a sudden, this amazing I’m just going to say good, this good, different feeling inside. Then we start feeling it again and again, and maybe for a little bit longer, this time right. So over time it changes, it evolves, it hangs around a lot longer versus just like, oh, I feel really great while I did this meditation and then I don’t feel great anymore. So, whether you are experiencing anxiety, depression, poor self-worth or literally any other mental health concern, if that’s preventing you from leading a life of happiness and contentedness, oh, I really, really, really believe that holistic mental wellness could be a piece of the puzzle that you’ve been waiting for. So again, the physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing pieces, and we’re going to talk about why. So let’s get into it.


Let’s talk about the connection between nutrition and mental health. Why is it important? Good nutrition is important for a lot of reasons, in addition to improving our physical health and, of course, reducing our risk of chronic medical conditions. So that’s like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity. Different food choices that we make also impact our mood, thoughts and feelings.


The foods that we consume each day either support us and support our psychological health and also provide our brains with the fuel it needs to say make neurotransmitters and have the energy to think clearly and I’m going to even throw positively in there or even just neutrally. When we’re well fed, we have a better, much better, ability to think in good ways, like positive ways, versus being super negative and down on ourselves. Okay, so back to what we were talking about though. So the foods that we consume they either support us in our psychological health and provide our brains with that fuel, but they could also be on the other side of the spectrum, and that would be like if I am eating maybe I’m eating McDonald’s or Wendy’s every day, hitting up Taco Bell I do love Crunchwrap every once in a while but if I’m eating a diet that is basically the standard American diet or you might have heard it called the sad diet and eating lots of ultra processed foods all the time, then that can increase inflammation, it can cause oxidative stress, which is essentially rusting on ourselves, and it can also impair our mood, our brain structure and our overall brain function. Wow, that’s huge Food. Just that sentence alone like that, shows how much food can change our mental health. But we’ll keep going.


So some more examples. Take sugar so if we’re looking at that example of the sad American diet, so that’s the sugar, the refined carbohydrates, the saturated fats, a diet super high in those things. Also, those kind of diets are linked to higher rates of depression. They are linked to higher rates of depression. That sad American diet, the standard American diet, is what I meant to say, but it’s still sad. The sad American diet is linked to higher rates of depression, that oxidative stress, so the rusting on ourselves and inflammation in the brain and the body, both, both, don’t forget that brain and the body. On the other hand, the diets that are super high in fresh fruits and veggies, fish, dietary antioxidants or bioactives and I know you’ve heard me talk about those before those have all been shown to reduce the risk of depression. And some good dietary sources of antioxidants are those plant foods like green tea, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans, and also we cannot forget spices and herbs. They’re packed with antioxidants. So, that being said, most Americans are fueling their minds and bodies with poor quality foods that are high in saturated and those trans fats, refined sugars, sodium.


We are eating way too many of the wrong foods and moving our bodies I’m gonna say, in general, a whole lot less than really. I’m gonna shit us than we should be. For most of us Not everybody. You know who you are if you fall in this category. It is no wonder nearly one in five adults struggle with mild to severe mental, emotional or behavioral health conditions. And even more terrifying is how major depression is predicted to be a top three cause of illnesses by 2030. That is nuts. Imagine how much like disability and missed work days and missed school days are gonna happen if that many people have major depression. And I’m here because we can do something about it. Whether it’s like prevention, whether it’s treatment, we can do something about it. It is never too late. So we’re gonna talk about what can we do to boost our mental health and reduce these symptoms like anxiety and depression. Yes, I said symptoms. We are going to fill our plate with brain-loving plant foods. Yes, it is true, eating whole foods can super drastically improve our moods.


So we’ve now talked about the connection between nutrition and mental health and let’s flip the script a little bit and we’re gonna talk about dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. Those are the bodies feel good hormones. I know you’ve probably heard them before. So these four hormones affect how we think, feel and also how we behave. If we boost them with fiber-rich plant foods and overall good nutrition practices, it can make a huge, huge difference when we are struggling with depression or anxiety. 95% of the body’s serotonin this is the feel-good, happy hormone, the hormone that regulates our mood, memory and our ability to learn is produced in the gut. 95% of our body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. Shall I say it again, that’s a lot. That is a lot of our neurotransmitter, serotonin, being made in the gut. Our gut health drastically, drastically changes how our body is able to produce serotonin. And I will say that this is like a fun little side note.


If you’ve ever tried to come off of an antidepressant and you just did like a cold turkey if it was an SSRI, so a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or an SNRI which is a serotonin nor epinephrine reuptake inhibitor, both of those. If you come off cold turkey and you just quit, a lot of people get super nauseous. Super nauseous because all of a sudden your body is used to having that serotonin in the gut and extra serotonin, because if we’re blocking the uptake of serotonin with these medications, so it hangs out a lot longer all of a sudden that gets taken away and we get super, super nauseous. So I’ve experienced it. Yes, I did the silly thing of try to quit and it wasn’t cold turkey but I’ve been on a medication that’s a lot harder to get off of in my life. So I do have experience personally with weaning from antidepressants. If anyone is curious, if you have questions, holler at me.


What’s more, though, is that an imbalanced intestinal microbiota has been linked to depression, and this is particularly in patients with higher levels of morganella in their guts. So this is a very specific microbiota strain. So we won’t go deep into that, but eating lots of parobiotics and prebiotics, increasing our fiber intake and consuming a variety of plant foods each day can all help to increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in our guts and reduce our risk of depression. Let’s talk about some foods. So several foods that nourish the brain and the gut include here we go, we’re number one the healthy dopamine boosters. So here we’re thinking tyrosine rich foods, bananas, avocados, pumpkin seeds there’s a couple of dopamine increasing foods, and the serotonin boosting foods are eggs, tofu, spinach, probiotic and probiotic foods and supplements, so those things that feed our gut bacteria and tryptophan rich fruits, veggies and meats, so like turkey, and chicken.


Number three is endorphin releasing foods. This is the dark chocolate and spicy foods that release endorphins for us. And then also number four, we’ve got foods that encourage exercise and human connection. So certain lifestyle changes like improving your gut microbiota and say we incorporate some aphrodisiacs into your diet that may encourage you to engage in those oxytocin-producing activities such as exercise, hugging and cuddling, socializing, bonding and sex with a trusted partner. Some scientifically proven aphrodisiac foods include pistachios, oddly enough, and saffron. Pistachios makes me laugh. Date night, let’s grab some pistachios.


Nourishing, okay. So nourishing your gut is one of the best things you can do for your brain and physical, mental and emotional health and, like we’ve talked about, of course, I know this because of personal experience and professional experience. I teach this to people for a living. So, while the connection between nutrition and mental health is a topic that I can seriously talk about all damn day, I really hope that this introductory kind of chat slash blog post if you’re reading it, you’re probably listening. If you’re hearing this, maybe you’re reading along.


Anyway, I hope that it absolutely helps you to understand the basics of the effect that diet has on mental and emotional wellness. And I really want you to understand this because, like we talked about earlier, I know, like I know, that it is possible for you to feel better. I know that I truly believe that for you. I didn’t think it was possible for me until I did it and I was like, oh shit, this is possible. Oh my God, what it’s. Yeah, we won’t go down that rabbit hole again. Okay, so, as you know, it is absolutely why I started the fulfilled fork and why it is my mission to evolve mental health care and to help other people who are absolutely fucking tired of feeling depressed, anxious and stressed all the time.


So if you are super ready to heal your body, mind and soul, I am absolutely here to help navigate this mental wellness journey. I, we do holistic stuff right. So that is the mind, the body, the soul, that emotional piece, the physical piece and that psychological piece. We do it all. We do it all here.


And if there is an area of that where I recognize that maybe you need a little bit deeper help, we’ll say, with a trauma perhaps, maybe I recognize that, oh my gosh, this thing is here and I am noticing that you need additional help with this, then I will refer you out as needed, right? I, of course you don’t. You don’t have to do that referral if you don’t want to, but I will always make suggestions if you are struggling with something and if I am not able to help with that. So even if we cannot dive into a topic say a major trauma that happened, even a minor something that happened, if, if you need to go into that with a therapist, I will help you either find one if you don’t have one, or I will refer you to somebody that I know love and trust. So in how, how can we work together, though? That is probably your biggest question right now.


So I do offer private coaching and I do, of course, offer my favorite thing ever which I mean favorite thing in addition to, in addition to the private coaching, because the test without any guidance is just not as helpful. So nutritional genetic testing, we can do that, we can do private coaching, and this is seriously all the support you need to start nourishing your way to better physical, mental and emotional health. So if you are ready to do this and take this step right now. Then please head over to my website or into the show notes and book a complimentary support call and all that means is that we’re going to sit down for like 15, 20 minutes If, if that even we might not even need that much time, but we’re just going to sit down and say hi, get to know each other a tad, say what’s up, and then if you have any questions for me, we can go into that. If you’re looking for something super specific, I will ask you about just the things that you’re looking for essentially. So why do you want to do coaching with me? That’s pretty much what we’re going to talk about, and after that you can, of course, decide hey, uh, hell yes or no. If you are a hell yes to work with me through coaching, then I am delighted and I would love to work with you too.

Friend, thank you for listening to Unforked. If you enjoyed the episode, we’d love it if you’d send it to a friend and rate and review the show on either Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Then email us a screenshot of your review to howdy@thefulfilledfork.com for a one-time credit to use towards our wellness services. Chat soon.



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Links & Resources –

    Thank you to Chelsea @ladyfolk for cocreating the Unforked podcast/newsletter name and helping me bring The Fulfilled Fork voice to life
    thank you to YOU, the listener, for being here on this journey together.


    With a full heart (but always room for a slice of pizza),

    Haley Schroth, RDN, LD, CPT, RYT, CMWC | Founder & Integrative Mental Health Coach


    P.S. Have a question you’d like Haley to answer in a future Unforked episode?
    Submit your (concise) question here.


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    Howdy! I’m Haley. A registered dietitian nutritionist, yoga teacher, personal trainer, and holistic mental wellness coach on a mission to help you transcend the struggle, stress, and suffering that life can bring. I’ve lived through it and discovered a path to feeling amazing in my mind, body, and soul. Now, I want to help you to live your most fulfilled life too through evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle practices!

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    Learn these easy-to-implement nutrition foundations to nourish your mind and body for improved energy levels, mood, focus, & overall well-being in my video training + guide on creating simple meals & snacks for mental wellness. This is the first thing I teach ALL of my clients! 

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