It’s important to value both physical and mental well-being

According to a recent health survey, one in four New Hampshire residents said they had used prescription medication for their mental or emotional health in the prior month, and one in eight acknowledged they had needed medication or therapy during that time but had not gotten it. These numbers are a bit higher than the national average, and at least partially reflect living through two-plus years of a pandemic.

Fortunately, there is growing acceptance for talking about mental health and finding ways to treat and address the emotional and psychological challenges that are common among people of all ages and backgrounds. Professionals suggest taking deep breaths, meditating, or stretching, therapy can be a great option for some people, and sleeping well and exercising is associated with reduced anxiety. One way cope with stress and improve your mental health is just to make a slight adjustment to something that you do every day: eating. An overall healthy diet is one way to improve mental health.

Healthy eating can be a difficult goal to navigate. We are bombarded with new trends and pseudoscientific tips that are constantly changing and contradicting each other, and healthy cooking can be overwhelming to some people. When wading through the nutrition research however, the science is clear and consistent on many key points

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines published by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommend a healthy eating pattern, such as the Mediterranean Diet, as well as eating at least two servings of seafood per week, especially for pregnant women and people with heart conditions. The omega-3 fats, nutrients, and proteins found in seafood reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent on average, lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and are ideal for athletes to fight soreness by reducing inflammation and increase lung capacity.

These benefits extend to mental wellness. Our brains use omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, and these fats are essential for learning and memory. A meta-analysis of fish consumption found that people who regularly eat fish are 20 percent less likely than their peers to experience depression. Over the past 20 years, dozens of studies evaluating more than 20,000 cases of depression have similarly shown that eating 2-3 servings of fish a week significantly reduces the risk for major depression. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association endorses the consumption of fatty acids in fish as an effective part of depression treatment.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines also reported compelling evidence that seafood consumption during pregnancy improves many measures of kids’ brain development, and these benefits tended to be higher with increased consumption.

While shopping habits and diets are typically personal decisions, there is more that we can do communally to inform people on the health benefits of seafood, so they can make more educated choices at restaurants and the grocery store. Currently, there is a coalition of over 200 industry and non-profit leaders from the seafood community asking Congress to fund a national seafood promotional program that would promote seafood as a nutritious part of a balanced diet.

Mental health is a complicated issue that often requires a comprehensive approach. This can include professional help and medication, along with simpler, everyday changes that we can make to lead healthier and more mindful lives.

It’s important to value both physical and mental well-being. Getting into a healthy routine can sometimes seem overwhelming or burdensome, but the benefits are worth the efforts. Eating an overall healthy diet with more seafood is an easy and delicious way to build to a healthier lifestyle – both your body and mind will thank you. We hope that New Hampshire representatives in Congress join us in helping to boost wellbeing across our state by supporting our campaign to promote seafood consumption.

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Use these resources to find help for you, a friend, or a family member.

Sara Baer-Sinnott of Exeter is president of Oldways.