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Transcript for Podcast: Healthy Eating Challenges among People with Mental Illnesses

Hello, my name is Tina Carter and I’m with the UIC National Research and Training Center on Psychiatric Disability. We all have occasion to remember the critical importance of healthy eating to our physical and mental health. For people living with a mental illness, healthy eating can be even more important because what people eat has been shown to have a direct effect on mood, stress, and energy levels.

What do we mean by healthy eating? The 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines suggest that a healthy diet involves eating nutrient-rich foods from the 5 food groups. Specifically, this means eating at least 6 ounces of whole grains, 2½ cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruits, 3 cups of calcium-rich foods, and 5 ounces of meat or beans every day.

Eating unhealthy foods can cause not only weight gain and a higher body mass index or BMI, but other health problems. For example, foods high in calories and fats can raise blood pressure and cholesterol. Coupled with higher body mass, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol increase the chances of having many health problems like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Similarly, the over consumption of refined sugars can cause not only diabetes, but obesity, thyroid dysfunction, kidney malfunction, and intestinal problems.

It’s well known that many Americans struggle with healthy eating, but for people with mental illnesses it can be even trickier as they cope with psychiatric symptoms and/or the side effects of medications used to manage these symptoms. Indeed, a number of psychiatric medications directly cause weight gain because they suppress metabolism.

Lifestyle issues also make healthy eating difficult. For example, people with mental illnesses often live on limited incomes and reside in communities with little or no access to grocery stores. With less money and less access to healthier, less processed foods, they are more likely to eat a diet high in sugar, sodium, and fats and to be less physically active than those in the general population. Additionally, many people cope with their mental and emotional problems and stress by overeating, smoking, and using alcohol or drugs.

Take heart -- healthy eating doesn’t necessarily mean depriving oneself of good food or enjoyable meals. There are many tasty foods that also contain vitamins and nutrients needed to boost one’s overall health. Additionally, certain foods like dark chocolate and nuts have other health benefits when eaten in small amounts. It is essential to check the Daily Recommended Guidelines for Americans (DGA) found at * The food pyramid was modernized in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and contains the recommended balance in daily foods to maintain good health, as well as incorporates the need for regular exercise.

* In June 2011, MyPlate ( replaced MyPyramid.

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