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The Connection Between Food And Mental Health

The Connection Between Food And Mental Health

It is no surprise in hearing that one in four people will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their life. In fact, depression itself has become the most common form of mental illness worldwide, having affected over 264 million people. 

The question inevitably arises: Why is such a massive wave of mental illness sweeping across the globe? Studies and data have shown time and time again, a significant factor that plays a part in this situation. There is a direct link between mental health and diet, and that peoples' love for junk food might be a principal cause for various mental health problems.

How can your diet affect your mental health?

Here’s a simple analogy: Your brain works similar to a car. It runs best when it gets premium fuel. When you eat high-quality foods that contain plenty of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, they nourish your brain and help protect it against oxidative stress - the ‘free radicals’ waste produced as your body uses oxygen.

When your diet consists mainly of refined or processed food, your brain has little defense against these waste products. A diet that is, for example, high in refined sugars, is harmful to your brain. Apart from promoting the oxidative stress mentioned above, it also promotes inflammation and hinders the body’s insulin regulation.

Quite a few studies have in recent years found a direct link between a diet that contains a large percentage of refined sugars and impaired brain function, depression, and other mood disorders. This goes to say the medical field has finally come to the table to acknowledge the role played by your diet in determining your mental health and your general mood.

Nutritional science explains it all

Over the last ten years, several studies have found that there is a nearly 80 percent increase in the risk of depression for teenagers who eat what we call a typical Western diet (fatty processed foods), compared to those who follow a diet consisting mainly of whole foods. Scientists are now even starting to believe that food allergies might play a role in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Additional studies have found that the risk of depression is between 25 and 35 percent lower in people who follow a traditional Mediterranean or Japanese diet, than those who follow a typical Western diet. The traditional diets referred to, of course, contain only small amounts of dairy and lean meats and are high in fruits, vegetables, fish, and unprocessed grains. They also contain minimal sugars and processed foods.

A large European study in recent years discovered that eating more of the nutrient-rich foods typically found in Mediterranean diets could, in fact, help prevent depression.

Nutrients that could boost mental health 

Zinc - Low levels of this mineral are believed to play a role in depression. Adding this to your diet will improve cognitive function.

Omega 3 - This assists in improving memory and increasing your overall mood.

Vitamin B12 - Low vitamin B12 levels increase higher risks of Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, and brain atrophy.

Vitamin C - Protects the nervous system and increases mood, memory, and IQ. 

Iron - Preserves energy and focus. Being deficient in iron increases the likelihood of depression.

The bottom line

The old saying that ‘you are what you eat’ has, after all these years, is proven to hold more truth than most of us ever imagined. To see this in action, start paying attention to how you feel after eating different foods - not just an hour or two later, but also the next day. Then start following a diet without sugar and processed foods for two to three weeks. Note how that makes you feel. Finally, start introducing healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and other seafood and unprocessed grains. The chances are high that not only will your overall health improve, but so will your mood, mental alertness, and cognitive abilities.