By Ashley Dooley Wohlgemuth

By Ashley Dooley Wohlgemuth

What science continues to show is that eating a well-balanced diet can drastically improve negative mental health symptoms.

Click here to read the entire September 2020 newsletter

Many families, regardless of their economic class, are dealing with large amounts of stress. Whether it’s parents becoming ad hoc teachers and IT troubleshooters, or suddenly facing new concerns of eviction and unemployment, 2020 has been a year full of uncertainty and change.

Suddenly, what it means to care of yourself looks completely different. It is more than just wearing a mask, washing your hands, and maintaining six feet of physical distancing. Did you know that the absence of nutritious foods increases the risk of disease and health issues? Or that healthy foods help adults and children improve mental focus?

Even though nearly one in four Americans have some type of mental illness, general anxiety has heightened during this pandemic. The Kaiser Family Foundation nationwide tracking poll captured that “53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.” In March, that same rate was 32%. Statewide, 41% of Missourians have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

What science continues to show over and over again is that eating a well-balanced diet can drastically improve, if not completely diminish, negative mental health symptoms. According to Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, “A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. A healthy diet is protective, and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”

As this relates to our clients, the problem is twofold: there is either a lack of resources necessary for a healthy diet or a lack of nutrition education. Many simply do not know what comprises basic nutrition as it was never taught to them. This is just one of the cogs in the complex machine that is the cycle of poverty.

Within our own Mom’s Empowerment program, we aim to bridge the gap between resources and education. Nutrition and healthy eating are required education topics as case managers work with clients and are encouraged starting at infancy and throughout the child’s early years. We have written articles in the past on the basics of nutrition, and work with our Welcome Center to provide emergency food assistance to young families struggling to put food on the table.

We are also able to make other internal referrals to other Catholic Charities programs, so our clients are able to fully get the help they need, between housing, employment services, financial literacy, and the like.

So, the next time you are feeling stressed, reach for an apple instead of a sugary snack and eat balanced meals. Healthy choices will not only have a positive impact on your mental health but also your long-term physical health. I guess “eating an apple a day will keep the doctor away” has some truth to it after all!

For more information, contact Ashley Dooley Wohlgemuth at


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