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Reprinted from a June 1, 2017 article from the Valley Press

Spotlight on mental wellness:
Eating for the best quality of life

Take a minute and reflect on what “Quality of Life” means to you.

Now, take another minute to consider how food impacts that quality.

Do you like hiking, skiing, playing softball or solving crossword puzzles? Do you enjoy the social aspects of eating? Whatever you enjoy, food is essential to both your physical health and your mental health.  Interestingly, your heart and mind, two of the most important organs in your body require the same nutrients to work at optimum capacity. I bet you can name the foods that are required for good health.  Yes, you are correct: vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy, whole grains, legumes, lean meats and fish. These foods contain the phytochemicals, fiber, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals necessary for a strong body.  One of the most important food categories and the one we fail to eat enough of are the vegetables and fruits.

Besides the fiber, vitamins and minerals, plant foods are packed with phytochemicals. Phytochemicals support healthy growth and aging by acting as antioxidants protecting your body and mind from harmful substances.
There are more than 4000 identified to date. The benefits of phytochemicals depend on eating 5 to 9 servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day. Every day I make a habit of counting the number of servings of vegetables and fruits I eat, making sure I reach at least 5 servings.

A serving is ½ cup or a medium size vegetable/fruit. I encourage you to at least reach the number five. Take advantage of the Collinsville Farmer’s Market for great tasting local produce. It starts Sunday, June 11; hours are 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and it runs Sundays through Oct. 22.

The website is www.collinsvillefarmersmarket.org. Local farm stands and other Farmer’s Markets throughout the Farmington Valley are a great way to increase access to locally grown produce.

For your brain and heart, omega3’s are essential. They are so important that they are added to baby food and many other foods. The American Heart Association recommendation is to eat at least 7 ounces per week of fish. Fatty fish contains the most omega3’s, but all fat in fish is unsaturated, which is best for the brain and heart.
There is research that suggests mental illness progression can be slowed or prevented if omega3’s are consumed throughout childhood. Omega3’s are important for both optimum brain and heart health.

However, what hurts our quality of life the most is eating too many processed foods (ex. frozen pizzas, nuggets, vegetables with sauces, cookies, hotdogs, etc.). The added sugar, salt and fat in these foods have no benefit for the brain and heart. The fats in processed foods are omega6’s which compete unfavorably with omega3’s.
The added sugar is usually fructose. The latest research shows that fructose can enter the brain and may be a factor in weight gain and Alzheimer’s disease. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains provide your body with the carbohydrates required for energy. Lean meats, fish, legumes have the protein and fat your body needs.
A variety of healthful foods eaten together at a meal are absorbed and metabolized to provide the best health benefits for your brain and heart.

There is a synergy of required nutrients that can only be achieved by eating a variety of food. The website www.choosemyplate.gov is a wonderful resource for healthful eating.

How do I as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist convince you that eating a more nutritious diet will improve your “Quality of Life”? I can’t. I know that only you can make the decision to take care of your body – your mind and heart. Think about what “Quality of Life” means to you. Are the food choices you make impacting that quality?

Written by Marilyn Ricci, M.S.,R.D.N. National Alliance on Mental Illness Farmington Valley member, on behalf of the Canton Mental Health Task Force.

Spotlight on mental wellness is an initiative of the Canton Mental Health Task Force, facilitated by the Farmington Valley Health District. For our Year Long Call-to-Action and additional resources, go to: www.fvhd.org.