Most people are familiar with the phrase, “You are what you eat,” and how it relates to physical health. Eat healthy and mostly unprocessed foods and the result is more energy, increased resistance to illness and a healthier heart. Recent research has taken this idea a step further and is looking at how the foods we eat affect our mental health and the link between nutrition and mental wellness.
A study completed at Deakin University in Australia is looking at this issue. Research is still in the early stages, but it appears that men who eat healthy, which is defined as a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, have better mental health than those who eat a diet based in processed foods. The research found both dementia and depression were being affected by the quality of food consumed.
Food and Improved Mental Wellness
The jury is still out regarding how specific nutrients affect mental wellness, but there is research to support the idea of various types of food improving mental wellness.
- Fatty acids, specifically Omega-3’s, play a vital role in supporting the brain and nervous system. Over half of the nervous system is comprised of fat, particularly Omega-3 fats, so eating a diet rich in this type of fat certainly makes sense. Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon are high in these healthy fats. They have been found to reduce inflammation in both the body and brain. Inflammation is now seen as a risk factor for depression, so increasing the intake of these fats can decrease the risk of depression and anxiety.
- Our brains run on glucose; a simple sugar that is created by the body as it breaks down foods. High quality carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits are easily broken down by the body and provide a constant stream of glucose to the brain. Combined with high quality proteins at each meal, it can prevent the slump many of us feel mid-afternoon.
Well-Balanced Diet Best For Mental Wellness
Overall, researchers recommend that eating a well-balanced diet is best for maintaining physical and mental wellness. No food is off limits, but junk foods should be kept to a minimum. Most physicians tell their patients that if it comes from a farm and you can recognize it as such, it’s healthy. If it comes in a box with a long shelf life, it’s probably not wise to eat a lot of it.