Can we eat our way to mental health?
Junk foods increase your risk of cancer, fatty foods clog your arteries, sugar rots your teeth and contributes to obesity. Conversely, certain foods will cut your risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and maybe even dementia. But can diet affect your mental health?
Researchers at Southern Cross University say that $3.1 trillion are spent worldwide on therapies and medications for mental health problems. But … there is now evidence that diet can decrease your chances of developing a mental health issue and help treat some problems.
Writing in The Conversation, Southern Cross University academics Megan Lee and Joanne Bradbury say we must include foods from the following five categories:
1. Complex carbohydrates
The sugars found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains act to boost brain health by slowly releasing glucose, which helps to stabilise our mood.
The reverse can happen when we eat simple carbohydrates found in sugary snacks and drinks as they create sugar highs and lows that rapidly increase and decrease feelings of happiness, and have a negative effect on our psychological well-being.
“Increasing intake of complex carbohydrates and decreasing sugary drinks and snacks could be the first step in increased happiness and wellbeing,” the researchers say.
Oxidation produces energy for our body, but also creates oxidative stress, especially in the brain.
“Chemicals that promote happiness in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, are reduced due to oxidation and this can contribute to a decrease in mental health,” the research says. “Antioxidants found in brightly coloured foods such as fruit and vegetables act as a defence against oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain and body.”
3. Omega 3
Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are involved in the conversion of food into energy and are important for brain health.
They’re commonly found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, leafy vegetables, eggs and in grass-fed meats. “Omega 3 has been found to increase brain functioning, can slow down the progression of dementia and may improve symptoms of depression,” the study says.
“Omega 3 are essential nutrients that are not readily produced by the body and can only be found in the foods we eat, so it’s imperative we include more foods high in Omega 3 in our everyday diet.”
4. B vitamins
B vitamins are found in green vegetables, beans, bananas and beetroot assist in the production of the brain’s happiness chemicals serotonin and dopamine.
High amounts of vitamins B6, B12, and folate in the diet have been known to protect against depression and too low amounts to increase the severity of symptoms.
5. Prebiotics and probiotics
While the common advice to take probiotics after a course of antibiotics is being challenged, it is acknowledged that good and bad bacteria living in our tummies influences our mood, behaviour and brain health.
Prebiotics and probiotics are found in yoghurt, cheese and fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi and have anti-depressive qualities.
“Prebiotics and probiotics have been found to suppress immune reactions in the body, reduce inflammation in the brain, decrease depressed and anxious states and elevate happy emotions,” the researchers say.
Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.
Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free
- Receive our daily enewsletter
- Enter competitions
- Comment on articles