The Nutrition Connection to Teen Anxiety & Depression

November 12, 2017

Is your teenager suffering from anxiety or depression? Did you ever think that what you eat makes a difference in your anxiety level? Listen in as we discuss how food and nutrition are critical for brain function.

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SHELBY: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness, a company providing life-changing nutritional support through nutrition classes and individual counseling. Good morning to our listeners. I'm Shelby Hummel, a licensed nutritionist, and I encourage you to stay tuned, especially if you're a teenager, a parent of a teen, or even a grandparent of a teen, because today Kara and I are going to discuss the nutritional connection to teen anxiety and depression.

KARA: And I also want to say good morning to our listeners. My name is Kara Carper. I'm a licensed nutritionist, as well, and co-host of today's show. I've been counseling clients and teaching nutrition classes for the past seven years, and not only do I understand the food connection to depression and anxiety as a nutritionist, but I understand that connection on a very personal level as well. And I'm not just a nutritionist who's going to tell you, “Don't eat your favorite treats and high sugar foods.” But in addition, I explain why. I explain the harmful effects of these foods to your brain. And then together, we can come up with a solution and find foods that are going to support your brain function.

SHELBY: Yeah, absolutely. And Dr. Daniel Amen, psychiatrist and author of Making a Good Brain Great says, “When your brain works right, you work right. When your brain is troubled, you have trouble in your life.” In the United States there are a lot of teenagers and adults with troubled brains. I think we hear a lot about that. There was an article actually just one year ago in Time magazine that was titled “The Kids Are Not Alright.” American teens are anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed. Over three million adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. And this article further points out that girls are far more likely to experience depression than boys, so nearly 20 percent for girls and only about 6 percent for boys. So, we really have to be asking the question, “Why would girls be more vulnerable to depression than boys?” Some possible reasons that I think of could be that these adolescent girls are eating maybe a low fat or even a fat free diet or skipping meals altogether to maybe cut calories.

KARA: Oh absolutely. I mean, I was even just talking with a mom in a Nutrition 4 Weight Loss class yesterday and I was talking about the topic of today's show and she said, “Well, my daughter is a teen and she's a dancer. And pretty much everyone in the dance in her school is anxious.” And we kind of talked about how we need proper nutrition and we can’t be on a low fat, low calorie diet skipping meals because that leads to low blood sugar and poor blood flow to the brain.

SHELBY: Absolutely. All of the things we're going to talk about this morning.

KARA: And those teenage depression numbers are just very alarming, but numbers for teenage anxiety are even more alarming. And that article you were referring to in Time magazine reported 6.3 million teens in that age range 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, which represents 25 percent of teenagers in that age range. So that kind of raises the question, “Why are there so many teens suffering from anxiety?”

SHELBY: Yeah, and it seems that very few people today are aware of the connection between nutrition and mood, nutrition and depression, or even nutrition and anxiety. Many people still tend to think of these disorders as being merely psychological or even emotional problems, thinking “Oh, they're such sensitive kids!” But as nutritionists, we help clients understand the biochemical, nutritional connection to anxiety and depression. I want you to think about this, listeners: food and nutrients are critical for proper brain function. In fact, there's actually a new field of study emerging called nutritional neuroscience, which is helping people understand the nutritional factors that influence their thinking, their behavior, and even their emotions. So, putting that very simply, when your brain has sufficient nutrients, it works right, and you work right. I think that's pretty powerful.

KARA: It really is. Today we also want to help you become aware of a variety of nutrients that your brain or your child's brain needs to function well and to avoid depression and anxiety. And from my personal experience, I really understand that the most important thing is to keep blood sugar balanced to avoid both anxiety and depression. So, for example, I absolutely cannot eat a breakfast like cereal, toast, juice, banana, things like that.

SHELBY: Why not tell us more about that? Why wouldn't you be able to eat cereal toast and juice and have good brain function?

KARA: Because after a breakfast like that, my blood sugar level is going to spike dramatically. And then that means it's going to drop very quickly and could lead to depression or anxiety. For me, low blood sugar usually leads to more anxiety, but it could be both. The first question that I ask if I'm working with a teen at our office, I would just say, “What are you eating for breakfast?” And another example to give is in the 1940s, Americans were eating two pounds of sugar per person per year. Today, Shelby, it's over 150 pounds of sugar per person per year. Quite the change. If teenagers are eating things like cereal, toast, and having juice for breakfast, that's several teaspoons of bread or sugar. You were telling me how much sugar that was. Wasn’t it up to 30 teaspoons?

SHELBY: Yeah, a 16-ounce glass of orange juice is around 14 teaspoons of sugar and 16 ounces I think is pretty common for people. And two cups of cereal, I think that's close to another 10 teaspoons of sugar. Two slices of whole wheat toast break down into about 10 teaspoons of sugar, so you can see how that adds up really quick really if we’re doing a cereal bar or something like that even. So, listeners, to get a visual of what 150 pounds of sugar looks like, I want you to visualize this the next time you go to the grocery store. You would need to purchase 30 of those five-pound bags of sugar. And when you stack up those five-pound bags of sugar in your grocery cart, you’d probably need more than one at that point, but think of what that would look like. You'd have to haul two or three carts full of sugar out to your car. And, right now I'm thinking a lot about people with the Halloween hangover of sugar and throughout the days surrounding Halloween. The average person chows down nearly a pound and a half of candy. And we think of that candy being full of high fructose corn syrup, maybe food coloring or artificial sweeteners and bad fats. So, now if you're listening this morning, maybe you're thinking, “But how do you know all of that sugar is bad for our brains. You're beating up sugar, but how do you  know that it's bad?”

KARA: Well, there is research behind this and researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine in 2014 found that a poor diet full of high fructose corn syrup, and keep in mind that's what most sodas contain is high fructose corn syrup, that can alter the brain health of mice. They found that an unhealthy diet could lead to an unhealthy mind. And the researcher Constance Herrell and her team discovered that stress hormones changed in adolescent mice when they were placed on a high sugar diet. So, they found that after 10 weeks, the adolescent mice that were eating a diet with high fructose corn syrup reacted differently to stress. And it's because the pathway in their brains that deals with stress had been changed. So, the mice became depressed.

SHELBY: Wow, it sounds like sugar equals stress in the brain.

KARA: Yes, so sugar was causing the stress, which was leading to depression.

SHELBY: Wow, that's powerful. Well, Kara, I definitely want to talk more about sugar consumption, but I think we're going to go to our first break.

You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition, and our discussion this morning is about nutritional connection to teen anxiety and depression. Throughout today's show, Kara and I will share information about a variety of nutrients and other vitamin supplements that have helped many of our clients relieve or ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. So, here's a question for you listeners this morning: Are you starting to slide down into seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, with fatigue, maybe low moods, and those carbohydrate cravings for donuts and crackers and chips? If so, you may have nothing more than a vitamin D deficiency. And I want to let you know you're not alone. We encourage you to get your vitamin D level checked with a simple blood test. I had that done a couple of months back and when we get back from break, Kara and I are going to help you understand the importance of having an adequate vitamin D level to prevent anxiety and depression.


KARA: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Before a break, we started discussing the importance of having adequate levels of vitamin D to help prevent anxiety and depression. When we think of vitamin D, we often think of bone health and immune system support. In addition, vitamin D is an essential vitamin for brain health, positive moods, and good memory.

SHELBY: You're right, Kara. Researchers have found that low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depression, autism, psychosis, Alzheimer’s disease, even things like mass heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. That's quite the list.

KARA: That really is. I mean, these are all just aging, chronic, degenerative diseases people are trying to avoid. We strongly encourage you to have your vitamin D level tested. Most people are going to feel best when their vitamin D level is in the range between 50 to 80. And if you do find that you're low and you need to supplement, it's very inexpensive, and we recommend taking it in a soft gel form. It's the most absorbable form. Just remember vitamin D is an essential nutrient for every cell in the body.

SHELBY: It really is. So, before we went to break, listeners, we were sharing a little bit of research about how sugar, especially things like high fructose corn syrup, leads to more stress. The pathway in the brains that deal with stress had been changed in those research mice. So, as a nutritionist, it would seem that if sugar consumption has increased—before, I said around the 1940s the average person was eating about two pounds of sugar per year, and currently the average person is eating over 150 pounds of sugar per year—remember, you're looking at those grocery carts and all of those five bags of sugar. And we've seen the rate of anxiety and depression in teens continue to increase, almost to an epidemic proportion. So, there must be a connection between that sugar and brain health. So, tell us a little bit more, Kara.

KARA: Personally, I know that I can’t drink soda. I can't eat foods that contain a lot of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, otherwise the depression and anxiety that I am prone to having—and I’ll talk more about that-- but that will start creeping back in and it's really not worth it. When I'm working with a teenager that's struggling with this, I mentioned before, the first thing I do is I say, “What do you eat for breakfast?” And I encourage them to eat real food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I also explain that foods like pizza, beverages like soda, breakfasts like cereal and toast, are not real food. They're really just processed carbohydrates that turn into a lot of sugar. So, is this a good time for me to share my story?

SHELBY: Yea, I think it would be really great for listeners to get an idea of your personal, but also professional experience.

KARA: And I just I want to share this because it can happen to anyone and hopefully people can relate. And then I also know that when I'm working with someone, I know firsthand because I have gone through it. So, if I'm honest with myself, I guess, I probably had anxiety and depression as a teenager, but it wasn't anything that was diagnosed. It's all in hindsight now looking back, but I actually was diagnosed in my 20s, and did start a variety of medications for several years. But at the time, I really was not aware of the nutritional connection. And so, I would kind of go back and forth between depression and anxiety. But what I figured out after coming to Nutritional Weight & Wellness and getting trained and becoming a nutritionist is I have probably struggled with blood sugar issues my whole life.

SHELBY: Like so many people, they understand the food that I eat does impact how I feel. But how scary for you to have that experience over years and years and years and not be able to actually put your finger on what impacts this. You started with medications, it sounds like.

KARA: And some of them worked a little bit, but they all have side effects that are often very uncomfortable. So, my goal is always to get off the medication, and what I do now is I just really have to eat about every three hours. I have to make sure that I start out my day with protein and healthy fats like eggs cooked in butter with some vegetables. Coffee and caffeine, I really cannot ever have on an empty stomach. I can have a little bit with food. But just an FYI, if teens are drinking caffeine, and we'll talk more about that too, that can really spike the blood sugar and lead to a crash and anxiety and depression, and that's what was happening to me. So, once I figured all that out, I can maintain my moods without medication.

SHELBY: Well, Kara, give us give us some idea of what that crash would feel like for you. If you had a blood sugar crash, you said you'd feel maybe more anxious, but what are some other things that you might have experienced?

KARA: Sure, I mean heart palpitations, sweaty palms, more brain chatter, negative thinking, it could also lead to depression, maybe blowing things out of proportion, making a bigger deal of things.

SHELBY: Would you ever get shaky? I know that even if I were to have a cup of coffee on an empty stomach I would start to notice I'd get a little shaky or maybe feel butterflies in my stomach, but I would just feel like not myself.

KARA: Right. Something feels off. Shaky is definitely is another symptom.

SHELBY: Yeah. And I think that for a lot of people who are listening this morning or even if they're listening as a podcast they probably want to know, “Well, what do you do differently now?” And you said you start your day off with breakfast. But, what piece of advice would you give to a parent who's listening or even a grandparent who has a teenager in their life. Is there anything that that you would say to them to get them started to help someone in their life?

KARA: Sure, I mean even with my daughter and I mean she's six. I start her day out with eggs, nitrate-free sausage, protein and fat. I wouldn't send her off to school having just toast or cereal or a bagel or something like that, because I know that that would affect her moods and her energy. I've seen it.

SHELBY: Her teacher would be calling you saying, “What is different today?”

KARA: Right. And I try to send snacks that have protein and fat. And just really avoiding things that are just carbohydrates on their own like granola bars, chips, things like that. Those are going to create more anxiety and depression for a lot of kids.

SHELBY: Granola bars and cereal. Think of all of those advertising dollars that have been spent to convince us that those quick, convenient things like cereal and toast, and even juice, those things are the breakfast of champions, right? We hear that all the time. But really the truth is those sorts of things are a breakfast that are going to contribute to more anxiety and depression. So, how did we become so confused on what to eat in the morning? I talked a little bit earlier, but for myself I know that a breakfast with some protein, with some good carbohydrates like fruit or vegetables, and some healthy fats like avocados, that is key for me to have a calm, happy and relaxed brain and who doesn't want that?

KARA: Exactly. Shelby is it time for a break?

SHELBY: Yeah, I think we should take our second break here quick. So, you are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. An important, but often forgotten supplement to help decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression is called Omega-3, found in food sources like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring. Deficiencies in those omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with cognitive decline, depression, mood swings, and even neuropathy. When we come back from break, we will share more about the importance of these essential fatty acids for good brain function. We'll be right back.


KARA: Welcome back. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. Many times, parents understand that omega-3 fatty acids are good for their child's brain, but they just can't get their child to take a fish oil soft gel. We have another way to get the most crucial fatty acid into a child, and one or two supplement companies produce a non-fish form of omega-3. It's called DHA. And this DHA essential fatty acid comes from algae. So, it's vegetarian as well for any vegetarians or vegans that are looking for omega-3s.

SHELBY: And it's really small. It's a really small soft gel so for people who have a hard time swallowing the omega-3 fish oil pills, that DHA soft gel would be a really great option for them because it's small.

KARA: It's way smaller than the typical ones. I'm fine swallowing those, but a lot of people do have issues. So, these are nice and tiny. DHA fat is also found in eggs from chickens that are running around in the pasture in the grass. It is also found in breast milk. DHA essential fatty acid is really critical for good brain function. And it's especially important for the development of babies’ eyes, brains, and immune systems. And I remember when I was pregnant I took DHA. I know I tell my clients, too, when they're pregnant, and a lot of doctors are recommending that as well.

SHELBY: Yeah, absolutely. So, before we went to break we were talking a little bit about what anxiety or depression or low blood sugar would feel like for someone who is experiencing those symptoms. We were talking about how breakfast really set someone up to have good moods throughout the day. It could be a breakfast that's going to give us good energy and positive moods and a good outlook. But it could be a really high sugar breakfast that's going to set us up for that blood sugar spike and crash that you talked about. So, tell us a little bit more about how you support your clients and how you encourage them to support their brain health at breakfast.

KARA: Sure. Some people enjoy having eggs and bacon as their protein and fat, maybe cook the eggs in some butter. They may have some vegetables with that. Sometimes I’ll think outside the box and I'll have more of a dinner for breakfast. And if there's leftovers, I've been known to eat a hamburger for breakfast. Maybe a hamburger with some sweet potato and butter and a little side of vegetables. And we often hear that some teens are rushed in the morning, especially if they have an early start for school, and a protein shake might work better in some situations, especially for teenagers.

SHELBY: I hear that a lot from parents who are bringing in their kids and they think, “If I only have this much time, what do I send them out with?” And I think this is a great option and I know we have quite a few recipes on our website at if anyone needs some more direction.

KARA: That’s a great suggestion. Not all protein shakes are the same. So, I really recommend that listeners go to our website. Look for the recipe because Jamba Juice is not a protein shake or things with juice. We want something that's going to have a good whey protein powder. And it has to have a fat like coconut milk or peanut butter.

SHELBY: Or avocado. In college I would get the Naked juice smoothies and I thought I was doing a really good job because it lists all the fruit. And then, if I'm honest with myself, too, I think that probably created a lot of sugar for me.

KARA: Sure. And you might have thought it was healthy because it said “smoothie” on it or it had fruit or something like that. But not it's too much sugar. So, another thing that is not going to support moods is skipping breakfast. We know for sure that that results in low blood sugar, and that can exacerbate both depression and anxiety. And I don't know how many teens are drinking coffee or caffeine, but that's really going to set the stage for anxiety and depression.

SHELBY: I think more so than anything if you go to Caribou or Starbucks or any of those coffee shops, teens more likely are getting those smoothies from there or getting like a cooler or some sort of Frappuccino, which is maybe a little bit of caffeine, but probably more sugar.

Let's talk about a few other important brain nutrients that teens need. It may surprise you that I'm going to start with the mineral, iron. As nutritionists, we know that iron is necessary to produce energy in both the body and the brain. So, pretty important. We know iron deficiency anemia is associated with things like depression, rapid fatigue after exercising, and even apathy. So, when we've reviewed the research, we found that twice as many women as men are clinically depressed, and that oftentimes this gender difference starts in those adolescents, really starting in those teenage years. So, we have to ask the question, “Why might women have lower levels of iron?” It could be a result of heavy bleeding from their menstrual cycle. It could be that they've been choosing to not eat meat or going back to people who are maybe skipping meals to cut calories. We hear that all the time.

KARA: We do. The food that contains the most iron is liver. Some of our nutritionists love liver. I'm thinking maybe Brenna loves liver, but that maybe isn't the first choice for a lot of teens. So, other great sources of iron would be steak, grass-fed meat or grass-fed burgers, buffalo or bison, chicken, turkey, and salmon all contain iron.

SHELBY: Now we're talking some other options. People are relived. And I always encourage my clients, or even people listening today to get a blood test that will not only measure their hemoglobin, but also their ferritin levels. Let's talk about that. Your ferritin level is testing the amount of iron that is stored in your body. And personally, I find that the ferritin level is best when it's around 70. I've had many clients who, if their ferritin level is 20 or even lower, that person or even that teenager is no doubt lacking energy and is probably feeling somewhat depressed or down. I actually had a client coming in, I believe she was about 14 or 15. She was having low energy, she wasn't able to perform cross-country. Her coach actually asked her parents to get things figured out because her energy was just tanking at cross-country meets, and the first time around they didn't they didn't test her ferritin level and finally she got that tested. It was so low that she had to spend time in the hospital. So, really important to have that ferritin level tested.

KARA: So, I'm guessing they kept testing her hemoglobin? Her hemoglobin was normal?

SHELBY: Yep, it was in that normal range. Her iron level was low. She wasn't eating a lot of meat, but she wouldn't take the iron supplement because she didn't like to swallow pills. So, yeah it was interesting.

KARA: I had a similar client. I had an athlete, who was not able to compete because of energy levels and oxygen levels, breathing issues. And her ferritin was also very low and she was able to get it resolved. So, that's interesting. So, when the ferritin level is low we look at, what is a teen eating or what is a teen missing?

SHELBY: More often what they’re not eating.

KARA: Sometimes we suspect a gluten sensitivity, and we do recommend when the ferritin is low, that they take reactive iron. It's basically a chelated iron or iron glycinate I think is another name.

SHELBY: Really easy to absorb.

KARA: Adequate iron is necessary for good mental health. And as a side note, just be aware that caffeine is something that can deplete iron.

SHELBY: Oh, so kind of going back to those lattes or those mochas. If teens are getting those for breakfast before they go to school, those could be kind of a double whammy. They may have that sugar crash from all of the sweetener in there, but the caffeine could also be affecting their iron stores. Oh, I think that's so interesting. Well let's look at some other important minerals. Researchers from the University of Whales found that low levels of the mineral selenium are associated with lower moods. Let’s think about foods that are high in selenium. No surprise, listeners, liver's at the top of the list. Some other things like seafood, even eating six to eight brazil nuts on most days will also give you a great source of selenium for good moods. And we've talked before, Kara, actually you and I were on the show talking about selenium and how important it is for good thyroid function.

KARA: Yes, definitely. And as long as we're talking about minerals, let's talk about the really important minerals, zinc. Researchers have found zinc levels to be lower in people that have clinical depression. We need zinc because it's essential for immune function. People who have insufficient zinc levels may get colds and viruses more frequently. And another sign of being low in zinc is if someone is really craving a sweet or a dessert after a meal. We hear that all the time, and that is a sign of a zinc deficiency. We also need zinc for a healthy thyroid, similar to selenium. Men need zinc for prostate health. And here's something really interesting-- if you're low in zinc, you may start losing your sense of taste and/or smell.

SHELBY: Wow, zinc sounds like it's really important for anyone!

KARA: Did you know that seventy five percent of the population is low in zinc?

SHELBY: I did not know that, but I'm not surprised. We're going to leave you guys on a cliffhanger here. I want you to think over break. What sort of foods are going to be high in zinc?


KARA: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Here's an interesting fact about the sales of soda and energy drinks. As the dangers of soda are becoming more and more known to the general public, the sales of soda have dropped, but only to be taken over by sports drinks and energy drinks. The sales of sports and energy drinks are skyrocketing. When you look at the label you can see that these drinks are marketed as having mental and performance benefits. But in reality, they're just another form of sugar. The sugar is getting into the body. It's getting into the brain. Sugar and alcohol are both depressants. And so, we know that all of these things: sugar, caffeine, alcohol are not good for teens having anxiety and depression.

SHELBY: Especially when you think about those developing brains. The brain is still developing into the mid-20s, so if you're having those stimulants and those depressants, those are going to impact the health of the brain. We always get parents or grandparents who ask, “Well, if they are in sports, what would be a good thing for them to drink?” And we say “Water!” Keep it simple.

KARA: If someone is exercising for an hour they just really need water. Maybe a long-distance runner during a race may need an electrolyte replacement at some point. But we would encourage one without sugar and not a typical Gatorade.

SHELBY: Yeah, absolutely. And this is perfect because we actually have a caller. Joan, you have a question for us about potassium this morning?

CALLER: Yes. I'm being treated for a skin disease and I'm on Cellcept, folic acid, and Prednisone right now. And they did some blood work and I got a call she said everything looks fine except that my potassium levels were high, and then I got off the phone and I thought, “I wonder does she mean they were low?” I eat bananas but every other week maybe. And I'll have a handful of pistachios here and there, but do you think she meant it was low?

SHELBY: That's a really great question. Are you seeing that you have weak legs or you tire easily?


SHEBLY: That to me sounds like it is related to potassium. I would recommend maybe give your doctor's office a call and just confirm that because if you do indeed have low potassium, that could be related to those electrolytes like Kara and I were talking about. It would be really important to know if it is out of range, if it's if it's too high or too low. If it is low, looking at a simple electrolyte replacement, not something like Gatorade that has a lot of sugar in there. Give our office a call today or even next week after you touch base with your doctor if you have any more questions about how to rebalance those electrolytes because we want you to be feeling good.

Well, thanks for your call this morning. Kara, when we were talking about zinc before break, we left all of our listeners thinking about what foods would be high in zinc. By now, our listeners probably know we're going to talk about liver, but we're going to give you some other options, guys. You don’t have to eat liver. But, when we're thinking about foods that are high in zinc, the     answer is animal protein. So, beef and chicken and turkey and bison and even things like pork. So, if you think you may be low in zinc I'm going to recommend you stop in one of our seven metro offices and ask one of our lovely staff members for a zinc taste test. It's free. You can come in. It only takes a few minutes. But oftentimes we find that people who are low in zinc need 30 to 50 milligrams of zinc daily to support good immune function and healthy brain function, not only teens, but people who are getting colds and frequent flu. Men who need some support with prostate health. All those things you reported, Kara.

KARA: It's great for skin. It's great going into the winter, too, when our immune system is down a little bit. As we reported earlier in the show today, 25 percent of teens in the age range 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder. Many of those teens are even too anxious to go to school. And that's really disheartening. As a nutritionist who works with teens and their parents, both Shelby and I understand that you cannot supplement a depressed or anxious teen or an adult out of a poor diet. So, you can't just take a bunch of supplements and not focus on the diet. You have to focus on the real food. Sometimes adding supplements in is important, but we already want to have that foundation of the real food. We believe that in order to restore brain function and lift depression and anxiety, the first step is to eat real food in balance. And so, you might be asking some questions like, “Well, how does real protein like fish, chicken, eggs, beef, turkey, pork, or seafood, how does that support brain health?” Why is it important to eat vegetables and fruits as my carbohydrates for good brain health? Why do I need healthy fats for good brain health?

SHELBY: Yeah, and when we look at those food groups, we know that they are critical for good mental health. The protein foods that we eat like eggs, beef, chicken, turkey, and even seafood, they're actually broken down in our digestive system into those individual amino acids, and those amino acids worked to build all of our neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. So, when we're eating animal protein, those proteins break down into the building blocks for our brain chemicals, and those brain chemicals help our cells communicate with each other. So, I don't want to get too science-y here or too complex, but I want listeners to know that the neurotransmitter dopamine is made from the amino acid called tyrosine, and the neurotransmitter serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. And I think of serotonin as the really important brain chemical for sleep and for good moods, so when there's a lack of protein, there is often a lack of those amino acids. And researchers have found that without sufficient dopamine and serotonin, those brain chemicals, people are often anxious, aggressive, they have low moods.

KARA: And with that great information, good mental health really starts with eating a sufficient amount of animal protein. Some of our clients have lost their will to eat even, and others are not interested in eating a steak or a chicken breast. So, we talked earlier about having things like eggs or a protein shake.

SHELBY: Yeah. Do you want to take a caller? We've got another caller. Kathleen, you have a quick question about vitamin D for us this morning?

KATHLEEN: Sure. My husband and I both had blood tests. And so, I’m a 30 on vitamin D and he's a 13. And I have your vitamin D gel tablets. How many of those should we take a day?

SHELBY: Yeah, so both of your vitamin D level needs a little support. I would recommend during the wintertime doing about 5000 IUs. That's what I take in the wintertime to make sure that I'm in that range that Kara talked about, the 50 to 80. So, thanks for your question this morning.

KARA: Yeah, I take that as well, Shelby. 5000, especially in the winter. So, just kind of recapping, animal protein is going to give us those amino acids that are going to help the body and the brain to make serotonin and dopamine. And that's really the biggest antidote to anxiety and depression, is having adequate levels of serotonin and dopamine.

SHELBY: Absolutely. And when we talk about nutrition, we know that in order to get the brain the nutrients that it needs to function, that real food is that foundation. So, it's not often going to change in a matter of a week or even a few months, but I just want to remind people that our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness each week is to help people experience better health and great brain function through real food. It's a simple, yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. Thank you for listening and have a good food day.


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