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Q: Can making dietary changes help improve mental health?

A: The connection between diet and mental health is still being researched. Some studies have suggested eating a healthy diet of such foods as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fish and healthy proteins can reduce the likelihood of feeling depressed while people eating more unhealthy food are more likely to report symptoms of psychological distress.

Two dieticians from Ascend, MELISSA SMITH and BRIAUNA PATE, will be addressing the food and mood connection in a free presentation hosted by the mental and behavioral health agency Rosecrance.

The presentation is said to be suitable for both professionals in the field and the general public. It will be held from 7:30-9 a.m. April 18 at Rosecrance's new facility at 2302 Moreland Blvd., C, and those planning to attend are asked to register at

Smith, director of clinical services for Ascend, said she and Pate hope to clarify the connection between the brain and the gut and how food influences mood.

For those struggling with depression, certain foods can help get them on track, she said. And while people feeling depressed don't always have motivation to make diet changes, she said, it doesn't have to be hard.

For instance, someone lacking the energy to chop and peel vegetables may pick up a healthy meal from a supermarket salad bar.

The emphasis is on adding foods that nourish the body, rather than placing certain other foods off-limits, Pate said.

Adding a nutrition education component from a dietician isn't typically a part of mental health therapy, Smith said, but she and Pate hope to spread the word that it could be beneficial.

Diet choices pretty much affect every aspect of health, including mental health, according to Christie Clinic dietician LAURA JACOB.

She's a big believer in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, which recent research has linked to a lower risk of depression.

"That is how I eat," she said. "Not that I don't have an occasional cookie."

Jacob said she considers the Mediterranean diet to be more of an eating pattern than a diet.

It emphasizes eating mostly plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, herb seasonings, whole grains, unsalted nuts and legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils and red, white and black beans) along with fish, poultry and olive oil. Moderate amounts of dairy, red wine and dark chocolate also fit into this eating plan.