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Is nutrition important to mental health?

As National Nutrition Month comes to a close, it is important to take away the importance of nutrition to our mental health. One of the most unrecognized contributing factors in the development, management, and prevention of some mental health disorders is proper nutrition. Proper nutrition fuels our bodies and affects our brain function, and foods high in nutrients provide positive nourishment. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of adults who do not have mental health issues eat fresh fruit and vegetables daily, compared to less than half of those who do suffer mental health issues. Those who suffer from mental health disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia, consume more unhealthy foods such as chips, chocolate, and ready-made meals.

Proper nutrition is not only vital to our mental health; it is an essential component to those healing from a mental illness. Many studies have linked excess sugar and poor nutrition to an increase in depression and mental instability. For someone who has a mental illness to engage in recovery effectively they need to have the energy and the ability to focus on their treatment. That energy and focus comes from being adequately nourished.

Nutrition at Pasadena Villa

At Smoky Mountain Lodge, Stephanie Matthews, Culinary Manager, helps our residents understand the role nutrition plays in their recovery.  She, along with her teamwork to create inspired menus that will nourish our residents and lessen their desire for unhealthy food.  She plans balanced meals that include proteins and vegetables, and high-quality meats and produce. She works to accommodate residents with special dietary needs and restrictions, such as vegetarians, vegans, gluten free, dairy free, low-carb, nut/legume allergies, and shell fish allergies. Stephanie works with these residents every day to make sure their dietary needs are being satisfied. She also talks with residents for feedback on the menus and takes suggestions for future menus.

Weekly nutrition group empowers residents to make healthy food choices by discussing the importance of quality nutrition in a fun and relaxed setting. In the past, the group has played games, built race cars made from vegetables, and toured our local produce company.  Residents also participate in group and individual cooking classes. Initially, many residents may feel some anxiety about cooking, but; eventually, they are immersed in the experience and having a great time. In class, residents focus on proper food safety, knife handling, and recipe execution. They also have an opportunity to practice their social skills by working within a team to complete the menu items. They have cooked everything from pineapple curry to lemon cupcakes, often surprised at how easy it can be to make delicious food at home.

Nutrition and Social Integration

The dinner table can provide some of the most significant challenges and opportunities for growth. Incorporating Pasadena Villa’s Social Integration Model TM into meal time helps residents engage in life’s strategy activities. This interaction between residents and clinicians ensures the accuracy and effectiveness of each treatment plan. Our meals are served family style so that residents have an opportunity to practice critical social skills that will help them to assimilate back into everyday life. Residents will often ask themselves, “How do I behave in a large group?”, “What do I do if I don’t care for a portion of the food?”, “What is an appropriate portion size to fit my needs?”. Family style meals allow residents and their clinical team to work together to answer these questions and ease the anxiety.

“Eating meals at the large table in a family-style environment encourages social interaction and dining etiquette. Also, as the clinicians observe clients in this setting, they see that it is beneficial to have some residents work in the kitchen. This allows them additional interaction in a new environment and helps them develop skills for life after treatment,” says Stephanie.

We know proper nutrition affects how we perform day-to-day tasks, cognitive function, our mood, and sense of well-being.  Our nutrition program, combined with social integration, allows residents to take part in fulfilling their dietary needs and gives them a sense of control.

Stephanie Matthews

Stephanie has been cooking in restaurants since she was 13 years old and has worked at Smoky Mountain Lodge since opening day, October 19, 2009.  “At that time, it was just the head chef and me cooking for our two residents. I’ve learned so much, not just in the kitchen but also from other staff members and residents,” shares Stephanie. She has had the privilege of watching Smoky Mountain Lodge grow from the initial two residents to the large group we have today. She was recently promoted to Culinary Manager and now shares what she has learned with her team and makes plans for future growth.

If you think that you or a loved one may be struggling with a mental health disorder, Pasadena Villa can help. We are here to answer questions and connect to care. Pasadena Villa currently offers treatment at two residential locations in both Orlando, Florida and Knoxville, Tennessee, and outpatient services in Cary, North Carolina. To learn more about our program, call us at
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