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Learning how the food you eat may impact your health

Mental health professionals are now starting to look at the foods a patient is eating to determine if a change could help improve their mental and emotional health.

INDIANAPOLIS — With the state of the world, mental health and discussion on self-care are a trending topic.

Many experts mention therapy and exercise — but experts also say there should be more discussion on how the food we put in our bodies truly affects our minds.

Nutritional psychiatry is a term that you may or may not have heard before. Mental health professionals are now starting to look at the foods a patient is eating to determine if a change could help improve their mental and emotional health.

“Nutritional psychiatry — more psychiatrists are really considering what people are eating — so its not just about addressing how we handle situations or our social systems, or what medication is needed; it’s also about knowing what someone is eating day to day to see how that could be impacting their mental health,” said registered dietitian Karman Meyer.

Eating healthy foods is not a new recommendation from doctors, but truly understanding how good and bad foods can affect your mind and your moods is a newer discussion.

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“The way in which we eat those foods are important. Eating a well-balanced diet, including foods from all different food groups, focusing on more whole, unprocessed, less refined foods — and eating routinely,” according to registered dietitian Garrett Swisher with IU Health.

If you’re looking to improve your diet and mental health, dietitians say you have to approach the diet as a whole. Don’t go too long without eating. Consume whole fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, and lean protein.

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“The brain and the gut are obviously interconnected. Foods that make us feel bad are going to make us miserable and not fun to be around,” explained Swisher.

Being aware of your alcohol intake is also recommended. Though some red wine in the diet has benefits, alcohol can have a negative chemical reaction in the body. That could essentially impact your hormones, which we know are directly connected to your mood and energy levels.

Dietitians and mental health experts also focus on your sleep patterns, as well.

“Sleep can be foundational when it comes to mental health. So yes, it does come up quite frequently," Meyer said. "As we go through discussions about those chronic diseases, the sleep and stress management is a part of the conversation because they’re so foundational. So if we can address some of the sleep problems some of the even mental health and mood, that can lead to better eating patterns.”

The Everlywell Food Sensitivity Tests require blood from a finger prick. That blood sample gets mailed back into the company, and a few weeks later, they send your results back to you.

After you’ve taken the test, experts say you should consider doing an elimination diet.

During this process, you take foods out of your diet and add them back to get a better understanding of how your body reacts to certain foods.

"I'm a big advocate of always eliminating and reintroducing, just to get clear information," said Nicole Lindel, a registered dietitian and Everlywell adviser. "If you already know you have a sensitivity to cow’s milk, there's no need to eliminate and reintroduce. But if you're not sure if there's any indication where it could be a problem but not entirely sure, then I recommend doing the elimination diet."

First, it's important to understand the differences between food sensitivity, intolerance and allergy because each of these have a different immune response.

Having a food sensitivity leads to different gastrointestinal issues, like bloating or diarrhea. A food intolerance means you lack the enzymes to break down certain foods, like dairy, which can lead to similar symptoms. And food allergies can be more serious, with symptoms like swelling, rashes and, in severe cases, even death.

13News also wanted to know how accurate these tests are, so we asked a secondary source, allergist and immunologist Dr. Leena Padhye at Family Allergy and Asthma.

"When a patient comes to see me with that testing, I'm looking to see the symptoms that they're describing and the foods that they feel may be causing them. Is there a correlation between the symptoms and their clinical history and what the food testing is showing?" Padhye said.

Padhye adds that the tests are just a starting point — they’re not supposed to be conclusive.

"If you're looking at foods that may be causing some symptoms that are difficult for you to understand like stomach pains, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, I think it’s certainly a first step for some people, and I think it can give you some valuable information about what foods that may be triggering some symptoms," Padhye said. "It doesn't work for everyone, but for some people it can be a first step in the journey and realizing what foods may be causing issues for them."

Experts say the best thing you can do is start this conversation with your doctor.

An additional resource is the FIG app, which helps you keep track off allergies and food sensitivities that allows you to scan foods at stores to make sure you're buying safe foods.

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