As the holiday season arrives, foodservice teams are doubling down on work, and many people are experiencing both heightened excitement and heavy demands to keep pace with holiday commitments. The upshot is that 3 in 5 adults feels the holidays can have a negative impact on their mental health, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Plenty of emerging research points to foods that can help protect our mood, especially in times of stress. High on the list is seafood.
Research summarized by the Institute of Food Technologists in Eating for Mental Health tells us that the typical Western diet is associated with an increased risk of depression. Conversely, healthier eating patterns reduce the risk. Almost 9 in 10 consumers expresses an interest in purchasing foods that help boost mood and contribute to an overall sense of well-being.
Food and Mood
Researchers publishing in BMJ break down what we know about food and mood. Consuming healthy fats, as in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, positively affects hormonal, neurological, and inflammatory processes throughout the body. A more typical Western diet, high in carbohydrate, animal fats, and refined foods, contributes to inflammation. In turn an “inflammatory diet” is linked to depression in some people, explain the authors.
A healthy eating pattern such as the Mediterranean Diet features healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, and seafood and has the opposite effect, say the researchers. It can optimize metabolic processes and also build a healthy gut microbiome. (The gut microbiome is the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the digestive system.) Researchers are exploring links between a healthy microbiome and mental health.
Seafood Can Boost Mood
“Seafood has health benefits that address anxiety and depression,” explains Seafood Nutrition Partnership. Omega-3s in fatty fish have received plenty of attention for their positive impact on mood. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association endorsed the fatty acids in fish as an effective part of depression treatment.
Jessica Miller, RD comments for Seafood Nutrition Partnership, “The American diet is filled with foods that negatively impact how our brain works, but many delicious foods are anti-inflammatory and can reverse the damage, such as fish and shellfish.”
Consuming 2-3 servings of seafood per week can be part of a self-care approach to protecting mental well-being, says the Partnership. Seafood also “provides other vitamins and minerals important for mental health. The nutrients that tend to be low in people who are depressed – vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc – are found in fish.”
In addition, seafood can have a positive effect on neurotransmitters in the body that influence mood and brain health, says Sydney Greene, MS, RD. She lists the four top foods for supporting mental health as pasture-raised eggs, leafy greens, Brazil nuts, and seafood. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults enjoy at least two servings of seafood per week.
Holidays for Healthcare Patients
If you are serving patients or residents in a healthcare setting, you can appreciate the added stresses imposed by health concerns and disruption of family traditions. For seniors, “The holidays can be confounding and contradictory. They may conjure sad memories of family and friends now gone or re-introduce them to old family disputes or dysfunction. Or the holidays can mean too much of a good thing or simply too much, too many people, too many activities or too much food and drink,” says UC San Diego Health.
The Season for Caring
Holidays are an opportune time to focus on self-care, as well as caring for your foodservice teams and your guests—just one more reason to incorporate seafood into your holiday menus. For seafood holiday ideas, check out the Holiday Recipe Collection from Chicken of the Sea.