Nutritional Psychology Topics
The Problem: The Standard American Diet (SAD)
The majority of our eating patterns today are oriented towards psychological pleasure and convenience. This eating for convenience and pleasure, rather than for nutrient needs, is priming individuals for mood and mental health disturbance.
A recent study examined the foods contributing to energy intake in the US population.1 This research examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted from 1988-1994 and then again from 1999-2000.
The study showed that the top 10 food groups contributing to 74% of energy intake of the population included:
- Soft drinks
- Cake, sweet rolls, doughnuts, pastries
- Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, meat loaf
- Potato chips, corn chips, popcorn
- Rolls, buns, English muffins, bagels
- Cheese or cheese spread
- French fries
The Answer: Nutritional Psychology
The nutritional psychology approach examines the biophysiological processes that explain how our environment, specifically the things we put in our body, dramatically affect the functioning of our body and brain. Thus, the field of nutritional psychology provides mental health professionals with a new lens. This lens allows professionals to take into account the Standard American Diet (or SAD diet) and other dietary patterns when assessing and treating mental health disorders.
Nutritional Psychology Topics:
All topics are covered in the APA-approved Nutritional Psychology Certificate Program sponsored by John F. Kennedy University.
The Blood Sugar Adrenal Axis (BSAA)©
A central concept in the field of nutritional psychology is the “Blood Sugar-Adrenal Axis” (BSAA). The Blood Sugar Adrenal Axis (BSAA) is a physiological hormone system in the body that is activated by an individual’s daily dietary pattern. It describes the physiological link between poor dietary intake and mood. The BSAA functional concept forms the cornerstone by which we can interpret the effects of major food groups (macronutrients) on mood.
Macronutrient Mood Therapy©
Macronutrient Mood therapy (MMT) is a tool that is designed to help clients support their own mood from a dietary perspective. MMT involves the selective removal of dietary factors associated with mood disturbance, and replaces these factors with increased intake of dietary components associated with improved mood.
The 3-Day Food Journal for Mood (3-DFJM)©
The 3-Day Food Journal for Mood (3-DFJM) is a nutritional psychology tool designed to help clients to self-identify their macronutrient dietary intake patterns. This tool helps to identify dietary factors that can lead to states of anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Knowledge of this tool will become increasingly necessary as clinicians work in conjunction with integrative healthcare professionals to solve dietary-related behavioral problems and facilitate behavioral change.
Nutrition & Clinical Disorders
Research demonstrates that many common mental health disorders, including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are associated with nutrient deficiencies. Essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids are often deficient in the general population and are remarkably deficient in patients suffering from mental disorders. Studies have suggested that specific diets as well as supplementation of vital nutrients and amino acids can help support mood and effectively reduce symptoms of mental health disorders. Click here to review relevant research.
Amino Acid Therapy
Substances found naturally in foods, called amino acids, regulate the same neurotransmitters in the brain that antidepressants are designed to regulate. Natural foods substances can be used to support neurotransmitter production and regulation, and can modulate certain symptoms arising from nutrition-based dietary deficiencies. Amino Acid Therapy is a dietary intervention designed to address neurotransmitter depletion. Gaining awareness of how neurotransmitter deficiencies are assessed can help clinicians work more proficiently with licensed professionals in determining a broader array of factors that may be impacting their client’s mood and behavior. Click here to review relevant research.
Clinical Practice Guidelines
Scope of practice and boundaries of competence are important areas of consideration as the field of nutritional psychology is defined and developed. Legal parameters associated with practicing nutritional psychology when a clinician does not have a nutrition license must always be considered and thoughtfully approached. The Center for Nutritional Psychology is committed to defining scope and paving the way to gain competence in this field so interested mental health professionals can use nutritional psychology principles in practice. Click here to review ethics codes for a variety of disciplines and links for nutrition laws.
Integrative health is a movement in the field of medicine that encompasses all patient-centered, holistic, and integrative approaches to healthcare. A broad range of disciplines are involved in this movement, including, but not limited to, physicians, naturopathic doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, acupuncturists, nurses, chiropractic doctors, yoga/meditation instructors, and psychologists. Integrative health is a whole-person approach – designed to treat the person, not just the disease. One of the major paradigm shifts in integrative health is to look at dysfunction in biophysiological mechanisms that occur before disease states. Instead of a pill for a and ill, such as an inhaler for asthma, the integrative health model looks at all the biophysiological processes that may result in this symptom (e.g., inflammation, dysbiosis, detoxification problems, etc.) as well as the mind, body, and spirit connections. Nutritional psychology is perfectly aligned with the principles of integrative health – it is an approach to psychology that looks at the biophysiological mechanisms, influenced by our nutrient intake, that underlie mood and behavior and provides another important mechanism for looking at a person as an integrated whole. Click here to review recent research in integrative health.
Nutrition and Cognition
Cognition encompasses the entirety of our thinking abilities. Our ability to sustain attention, remember information, problem solve, communicate our thoughts, plan and organize are all important aspects of cognition. Nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining cognitive health. Our nutritional choices greatly impact our physical, mental, and cognitive functioning. Both macro- and micronutrients provide essential building blocks for neuronal functions and neurotransmitter production. The rates of conditions that impact cognition, including mild cognitive impairment (MCI), traumatic brain injury (TBI), autoimmune disorders (e.g., multiple sclerosis), varying subtypes of dementia, and relevant medical conditions (e.g., Parkinson’s Disease), continue to increase. Additionally, individuals of all ages report experiencing ‘brain fog,’ forgetfulness, and reduced cognitive efficiency. Extant research suggests that nutritional factors greatly impact cognition and can play an important role in ameliorating or perpetuating cognitive difficulties. Implementation of specific nutritional guidelines and dietary supplements have an important role in the treatment of cognitive disorders and in the maintenance of cognitive health. Click here to review relevant research.