One of the biggest determining factors of our mental health is one that is also commonly overlooked: nutrition. Studies have shown that, by altering one’s diet alone, the risk of depression can be lowered by as much as 35%. Our eating habits play a massive role in how we feel not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Yet, if you really think about it, this isn’t all that surprising. Food is what powers your body - specifically the nutrients contained in food. No less than 20% of the energy you eat gets used by your brain, so of course what you do (and do not) eat has quite an impact.
Healthy Fuel vs. Unhealthy Fuel
Healthy foods for your brain include whole grains, fish, and leafy greens - to name a few. On the other hand, processed foods that tend to be high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat have been shown to pose numerous brain health risks. One way they do this is by raising insulin levels, which not only can lead to diabetes but also damages the brain’s ability to store memories and think clearly, potentially even leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
Quantity Also Matters
Another aspect of nutrition itself which is often overlooked is when you eat and how much - in addition to what. Overeating often leads to being overweight and can even lead to obesity over time. It’s been estimated that 31% of Australian adults are currently obese.
A great way to combat overeating is through intermittent fasting. The purpose of intermittent fasting is to help reduce your daily caloric intake, which facilitates weight loss. Another benefit of intermittent fasting is that it may also directly help your brain. David Sinclair, an Australian biologist who studies genetics and aging at Harvard Medical School, claims that fasting activates something he calls “vitality genes” in the brain and other bodily organs which preserve cellular health and ward off aging.
The Bottom Line
More than anything, the key to symbiosis between nutrition and mental health is consistency. It’s ultimately about what you predominantly eat over weeks, months, even years. It’s possible one of the reasons the link between nutrition and mental health is underappreciated is that it can take some time for the effects to fully manifest.
The bottom line is that what you eat can have as much of an impact on your mental health as it does on your physical health. By shifting our eating habits, we all can improve our mental state in some helpful way or another.
This article was kindly written and contributed by Cassie Steele.