by “ChefNurse” Ellen Minier, MSN, PMHNP-BC
Depression is a devastating condition, which can effect up to 300 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of disability. 10% of the adult population in the United States is reported to suffer from the effects of depression, but unfortunately approximately one third of all patients with depression fail to respond to conventional antidepressant treatments, giving rise for the need to better understand the pathophysiology of depression and therefore “think outside the box” for added treatment modalities. This is not to say that taking medication and talking with a therapist are to be discounted, but perhaps the current standard of care could be augmented if we pay attention to how our diet can affect our mental wellness.
There is emerging data that shows how the body’s inflammatory response directly contributes to depression. Neurotransmitter regulation of Serotonin and Dopamine are reduced at the synapse when our bodies are in a constant state of inflammatory response. Without enough of these important neurotransmitters depression is likely to occur.
There are several known culprits of increased inflammation in terms of what we eat. Systemic inflammation can be caused in part by eating foods made with white flour, foods high in sugar, processed meats, and foods high in gluten. On the other hand, there are many delicious foods that can actually reduce systemic levels of inflammation. Make small, positive changes to improve your diet such as the addition of dark leafy greens, nuts, fruits and monounsaturated fats (like extra-virgin olive oil) to help reduce your body’s inflammatory response and improve overall mental wellness.
Enjoy the following recipe for my favorite fall salad, which is packed with ingredients that can lower inflammation and improve mood…but it is also beautiful and delicious!
FAVORITE FALL SALAD
Arugula, Butternut squash, and Pear Salad With Agave-Black Pepper Walnuts and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish
1 container baby Arugula-about 6 oz
1 small Butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes
2 pears (washed, skin-on, cored and sliced)
6 oz (about 1.5 cups) walnuts
½ cup dark agave nectar
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for the squash)
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Prepare the butternut squash by tossing the peeled and cubed squash in a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan and roast in a 375-degree oven for 30-45 minutes (turning the squash midway through cooking) until squash is tender and browned around the edges. Let cool.
- Prepare walnuts by tossing the walnuts in agave nectar and about ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Place nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray or parchment paper. Roast nuts for 10-12 minutes until caramelized. Let cool completely.
- Prepare the dressing. Place mustard, balsamic vinegar, in small bowl and whisk until combined. Slowly whisk in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Assemble salad by combining the arugula, thinly sliced pears, and roasted butternut squash onto a large platter. Drizzle with the balsamic vinaigrette. Top with agave-black pepper walnuts and serve.
TIPS: Make things easy on yourself when it comes to meal prep! Often you will find butternut squash already peeled and cubed and pre-washed greens right in the produce section of your local market. All components of this salad can be prepared ahead of time and assembled right before serving.
“I have been fortunate enough to have had 2 careers in my lifetime – psychiatry and culinary arts. I obtained my degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University in 1998 and worked as a chef for many years. When I became a mother, I was inspired to go back to school and began my path to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Even though I left the professional world of cooking behind, I still absolutely love creating delicious and beautiful meals for my friends and family. I am so excited to share with you how food and mental wellness are connected to one another.”
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