For the media

How nutritious food can boost mental health healing

By The Health News Team | June 20, 2024
Karla Duarte and Kristina Galeana at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital

The Food and Expressive Arts group at Sharp Mesa Vista was formed by Karla Duarte (left) and Kristina Galeana (right).

A patient at Sharp Mesa Vista feels the smooth piece of fine chocolate on their tongue and chews slowly, savoring its earthy and nutty taste. “I haven’t rushed to finish eating a chocolate in a long time,” they say, a practice learned at the behavioral health hospital.

Each month, intensive care unit patients in the hospital’s Food and Expressive Arts Group gather to practice mindfulness, self-expression and balanced eating. “We formed this group because food can be a creative and beneficial way to support one’s mental health,” says Kristina Galeana, a lead dietitian at Sharp Mesa Vista.

Dietitians working in the mental health field help patients participating in the Food and Expressive Arts Group get proper nutrition while promoting a positive relationship with food. The group’s leaders make the process empowering, as members develop ways to choose healthy foods. They also share precious childhood memories of a certain food or discuss its depiction in movies, making their gatherings fun.

“Food can be such a great initiator for storytelling, and it can help a person communicate their feelings,” says Karla Duarte, a recreational specialist at Sharp Mesa Vista.

Integrating mindfulness into meals

Participants in the Food and Expressive Arts Group focus on mindful eating, which encourages carefully observing each of the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.

“Mindful eating also can help folks pay better attention to how full they are and prevent overeating,” says Duarte. “Another benefit is practicing being in the present without placing judgment on how you eat.”

Duarte adds that mindful eating can include reflecting on where your food came from and the people that helped prepare it. The practice can promote gratitude and enhance the overall eating experience.

How food affects brain function

In each group gathering, Galeana and Duarte showcase superfoods rich in compounds, such as antioxidants and fiber. Some examples include whole grains and berries, which remind patients of the important link between nutrition and mental health.

“The food we consume affects our brain,” says Galeana. “A diet high in refined sugars can increase inflammation and oxidative stress, which can lead to symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.”

The Food and Expressive Arts group also features cultural foods, including chia seeds and couscous, to introduce patients to ingredients they may have not known. “We realize that some of our patients may have financial challenges; so, we also try to use foods in our group that are widely accessible,” says Duarte.

Each group session highlights various ways food can promote healing, recovery and overall health. Galeana, for example, enjoys avocadoes, which are nutrient dense and versatile, as they can be spread on toast or used in baking instead of butter.

“As for my favorite food, it’s authentic white and soft corn tortilla rolled with salt,” says Duarte. “It’s nutritious and it brings back memories from my childhood, both of which I can use as examples of how food can be so meaningful.”

Learn more about Sharp Mesa Vista’s mental health services; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

Kristina Galeana of Sharp Mesa Vista

Kristina Galeana


Kristina Galeana is a lead dietitian at Sharp Mesa Vista.

Karla Duarte of Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital

Karla Duarte


Karla Duarte is a recreational specialist at Sharp Mesa Vista.

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.