What You Eat and How You Feel
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This New York Times article discusses the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry. More research is backing up how our diet can influence our mental health.
What We Love About It
Let’s get real, I love any time big newspapers shine light on mental wellness. I particularly love that they are focusing on diet though, and it’s impact on mental illness. In the past year, I have been reading a lot about diet and different theories behind how America has come to be one of the most obese countries in the world. It seems we spent a lot of time focusing on calories, when maybe that wasn't the right culprit of our obesity. Unfortunately, it has created a culture that seems to think fewer calories means a healthier diet. From a mental health perspective though, we know calories have nothing to do with brain function and health. Instead, the answer to improved mental health, seems to lie within inflammation and nutrients. Inflammation is bad for our body, and therefore, bad for our brain as well. It impacts the function of the cells in our brain, which then impacts how we feel and behave. Nutrients, on the other hand, help the cells in our brain to heal and function more optimally.
Take Away Point
We need to start focusing on foods that are good for us and what those good foods can do for our body. More research is looking into how certain foods have the ability to improve mental health. Our brains use up more energy from the food we eat than any other organ in our body, so it’s not surprising that what we eat influences brain health, aka. mental health. Some pointers from the article:
Deficiency in omega-3 is linked to higher risk for suicide and depression.
Vitamin B12 may help reduce brain shrinkage (cell death).
In one study, people who increased the number of fruits and vegetables they ate, reported greater life satisfaction and levels of happiness. Similarly, in another study, people who had diets higher in fruits and vegetables, also had higher levels of mental well-being; however, this did not apply to people who ate similar amounts of canned fruits and vegetables.
Raw fruits and vegetables have higher nutrient content of B vitamins and vitamin C than canned or cooked fruits and vegetables.
One study showed people who ate a Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks had improved mood and lower anxiety.
Diets rich in leafy vegetables, legumes, seafood and whole grains improve gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria (as mentioned in a previous post) is important for mental health.
Fruits and vegetables are high in phytonutrients that can protect against inflammation and damage in our brain.
Meat-free diets can increase the risk of depression and eating disorders, and some nutrients, like long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12, are difficult to get in a vegetarian-only diet.
Practicing mindful eating and focusing on foods that bring you joy is also important.