It’s a no-brainer that food affects our waistline; but what we eat also directly influences the brain structure and function and, ultimately, our mood.
Nutritional psychiatry, still relatively new field, refers to the role of nutrition in preventing and potentially minimizing symptoms of mental disorders like depression and anxiety.
Multiple research studies found that people who follow Mediterranean diet, characterized by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods, are up to 30% less likely to develop depression than those who typically consume red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter and potatoes. Importantly, these relationships are largely independent of age, income, education, smoking or body weight, meaning that eating a healthy diet solely can help you maintain your good mental health, regardless of other factors.
In line with these findings, other recent studies correlated fish consumption with a lower risk for psychotic symptoms and olive oil consumption with lower risk for ischemic stroke and development of mild cognitive impairments and Alzheimer disease, particularly when combined with higher levels of physical activity. Moreover, food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve your mood, relieve anxiety and depression and even improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.
Notably, even maternal diet during pregnancy and early life diet are both important in modulating the risk for mental health problems in children as they grow. In a large study of more than 20,000 mothers and their children, it has been shown that the children of mothers who ate an unhealthier, diet during pregnancy as well as by the age of 5 years had a higher level of behaviors that are linked to mental disorders.
Bottom line – given that many factors that influence the risk for mental disorders are not readily modifiable, such as early life stress and trauma, social disadvantage and inequality, and genetic inheritance, it is great news that diet is that one highly modifiable factor that you can control and prevent mental disorders from developing in the first place.
We become what we eat, indeed!
Sara El Baba