We’ve always been big believers in food for therapy, but now the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seems to be on board too: For the first time, in their 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the agency is branching beyond physical health and including what nutrients may best support your mental health.
It’s no secret that certain ingredients can mess with your mood: Research shows people who eat more trans fat are more aggressive and irritable, and eating comfort foods (typically high in sugar and refined carbs) to ease negative emotions can actually leave you feeling worse. But this year, the USDA’s guidelines skip what not to eat, instead preaching the brain powers of adding more omega-3 fatty acids into our diets. Studies show omega-3s help promote the healthy functioning of neurotransmitters that regulate your mood as well as the proteins that support your cognitive function.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines point out the benefits of a diet rich in seafood—coldwater fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are major sources of omega-3 fats—as well as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes, all to lower your risk of age-related mental conditions (like Alzheimer's) as well as psychological issues, like depression.
You may have seen headlines that this report definitively recommends adding omega-3s to your diet to help keep your brain healthy, but the truth is that the USDA isn't outright saying omega-3s will boost your brain power. They are, however, saying they're going to keep their eye on the research in support of the idea. They acknowledge the American Psychiatric Association's classification of omega-3 fatty acid supplements as a “complementary therapy” for major depressive disorder, saying the science behind it is "strong evidence" in support of the idea. In short, there's not enough research yet, but emerging studies may be enough to make an official recommendation in favor of food's benefit on the brain in the future.
We're happy to hear omega-3s being recommended to maximize health. Even if the official jury is still out on how far nutrition can go for the nine percent of Americans suffering from depression, anything we can do to take one part of such a debilitating disease into our own hands is a step forward. In the meantime, chow Mediterranean—nutritionists agree it's as close to the single Best Diet for Your Health as you can get.