Food for the brain: Review examines the link between diet and mental health
05/21/2021 // Virgilio Marin // Views

A review published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology shows that a person's diet can improve or worsen his mental health, depending on the quality of the foods that he eats. European researchers arrived at this conclusion after reviewing past studies that examined the potential link between nutrition and mental health.

The researchers found strong evidence that the Mediterranean diet, which is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, exerts a protective effect against depression. Other studies also suggest that following a ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, could reduce the frequency of seizures in children with epilepsy.

A poor diet, on the other hand, is associated with mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to fatigue, memory problems and the development of depression. According to the review, taking vitamin B12 supplements could improve mental health in people with vitamin B12 deficiency.

Moreover, a few studies also found that consuming too much refined sugar during pregnancy could increase children's risk of developing hyperactivity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, could protect children from these conditions.

The researchers concluded that while the link between mental health and certain foods is comparatively weak, there is adequate evidence to support a direct association between a person's overall diet and mental health.


How your diet impacts your mental health

What you eat affects how you feel because your mental and digestive health are closely linked. To start with, ninety-five percent of your serotonin – a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mediating mood – is produced in your digestive tract, which is lined with millions of neurons.

Good gut bacteria influence the function of those neurons, as well as your production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. They are considered good bacteria because they play an important role in your health. For starters, they protect the lining of your intestines, reduce inflammation and improve how well your body absorbs nutrients from food. In addition, they also activate neural pathways that travel directly between your gut and brain. (Related: Many mental illnesses are inflammation based: More and more science backs up a link between gut health and mental health.)

Given the digestive system's role in mental health, it shouldn't come as a surprise that your diet also influences your mood. Indeed, studies show that people who follow the Mediterranean diet and other "traditional" diets have up to a 35 percent lower risk of developing depression than those who follow a typical Western diet.

Researchers attribute this difference to the fact that traditional diets include more vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and seafood, and only modest amounts of lean meat and dairy. Traditional diets are also devoid of processed foods and refined sugars, which are staples of a Western diet. In addition, many of the unprocessed foods in traditional diets are fermented, meaning they are rich in live beneficial microorganisms called probiotics.

Best brain foods to improve your mental health

Check out the following foods to improve your mental health:

  • Oily fish – Salmon, mackerel and sardines are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that an omega-3 deficiency can increase your risk of developing depression.
  • Probiotic foods – Fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut contain probiotics, which promote good gut health.
  • Whole grains – Whole grains are excellent sources of B vitamins such as vitamin B12, which is important for brain health.
  • Leafy greens – Green leafy vegetables like spinach are chock-full of folate, another B vitamin. Research shows that people with depression tend to have low levels of folate.

Your diet can improve your mental well-being or increase your risk of mental disorders. Adopt a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains for better mental health. has more tips on how to improve your brain health.

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