The link between diet and mental health has been established and today we will take a closer look at what the science says on how our mood is linked to our food.
Your brain’s need for fuel
The brain is a hungry organ with high demands for energy and nutrition, and we get this from the food we eat. On average, the brain consumes 20% of your daily intake of calories – that’s around 400 calories per day.
But it’s not just a matter of quantity though, it’s also about quality. Similar to putting premium fuel in a luxury vehicle, our brains are deserving of high-quality energy sources in order to run their best.
When we eat food rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, we nourish our brain with goodness and help protect it from damage. On the other hand, when we load it with bad quality fuel, our brain won’t run as well and may be more vulnerable to damage and inflammation. Studies indicate that stress and inflammation may contribute to both low mood and depression.
Risky foods for mental health
It’s important to keep in mind that many studies are still ongoing, and more research is needed to clarify the link between food and mental health. For example, we need to better understand the exact biological processes in our bodies that create this link.
That being said, on the basis of large observational studies, we can see there is a connection between poor mental health and consuming a diet that is heavy in carbohydrates and refined sugars. Research shows this may lead to impaired brain function, low mood, and symptoms of depression.
Various studies have also indicated that a high intake of processed meats, refined grains, fatty dairy products, as well as a low intake of fruit and vegetables, is linked to increased risk of depression.
The popular Mediterranean diet has been the topic of many studies and how it impacts on different aspects of our health – from our waistlines, to our hearts, and also our brains.
Based on the traditional foods of countries like Italy and Greece, the Mediterranean diet is rich in nutrition that our brain loves – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy, oily fish, legumes, and raw nuts. Impressively, one study found that people who stuck to this diet consistently experienced a 32% reduction in their risk of depression.
Another team of researchers pooled together the results of 21 studies on brain-healthy eating patterns, similar to the Mediterranean diet, and also noted that these foods provided protection against depression.
Whether you have a history of low mood and depression, or you would like to boost your emotional wellness, the case for a Mediterranean-style diet appears sound. Not only is it good for your brain health, it’s delicious and there are an endless range of fresh, easy recipes to enjoy.