Over the last 50 years, the food industry has changed the way we eat. We now understand how these dietary changes have impacted physical health, but their effect on mental health is only now being understood.
Big business has successfully created and marketed food products that have addictive properties. These highly-processed snacks and fast food products are full of fat and sugar, and have displaced much of the fruit, vegetables and other nutritious, unprocessed foods in our diets. It is these unhealthy foods that can be contributing to poor mental health.
Studies from countries as diverse as Norway, Spain, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia show people whose diets are healthier are less likely to experience depression. Research also shows that people who eat more unhealthy and junk foods are at increased risk of depression.
High cholesterol, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, elevated blood sugar and high BMI are all risk factors for dementia. And these are clearly influenced by dietary habits. However, healthy dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet help protect against dementia and cognitive decline. A recent European randomized trial showed people who adopted a Mediterranean-style diet as part of the study, experienced better cognition. Although this study wasn’t made to assess depression risk, it showed that it was reduced for people who adopted the Mediterranean diet.
This evidence shows that changes in dietary habits can influence rates of depression and dementia. These changes to one’s diet are particularly obvious in younger people, and help to reduce the risk of mental disorders manifesting in the future.
It’s becoming clear that common physical and mental illnesses are be mutually reinforcing. Obesity increases the risk for depression and dementia, while depression prompts obesity. Risk factors for heart disease are also risk factors for dementia. Heart disease is associated with depression, as worse outcomes face those with heart disease if they’re also depressed. What all this means for general well-being is that improving physical health should have positive benefits for the prevention and treatment of mental disorders.
Top Brain Foods
The food you eat has a lot to do with the health of your brain especially as you age. And don’t think you can just pop a vitamin supplement, as real food contains micronutrients that also play an important role. To protect your gray matter, consider consuming more of these foods.
Vitamin E in almonds promotes healthy blood vessels, and studies have shown that people with high blood levels of the antioxidant have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin E may also slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, a new study suggests. Also, add vitamin E to your diet with other nuts and avocados.
Beans and green peas provide a rich source of B-complex vitamins, which play a role in protecting against brain shrinkage as well as maintaining blood sugar levels and a healthy nervous system.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish reduce inflammation in the body, and scientists at UCLA found that people with lower omega-3 blood levels had more brain shrinkage and poorer performance on memory tests. Aim for eating wild caught fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon, cod, herring and mackerel, once or twice a week.
Spinach is packed with at least 15 different antioxidant compounds known as flavonoids, which have been shown to slow the formation of the plaques that build up in those with Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, spinach is rich in vitamins A, C and K, folate and iron.
A 2012 University of South Florida study found that about three cups of coffee a day can help protect against Alzheimer’s. Older adults with mild cognitive impairment who drank that much java were far less likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s over the following two to four years, than those who had very little or no caffeine.
Raise Vitamin C Levels
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is essential for healthy skin and blood vessel functioning, but some studies suggest it may protect against dementia-related brain plaque too. Oranges, limes and lemons are a all great sources, as are sweet peppers, strawberries, cantaloupes, tomatoes, broccoli and leafy greens.
Get Some Sun
New research suggests that people with low levels of vitamin D have a greater risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s or other cognitive issues. Exposing a sunscreen-free face, back, arms or legs to no more than 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine a few times a week can boost vitamin D levels.