Experts have increasingly studied the effects of diet on mental health. Many of them have noticed that those who follow a standard Western diet, which includes highly processed foods and added sugars, are at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Can Diet Help Mental Health?
Nutritional psychiatry, which some call psychonutrition, is a new field of study that focuses on the effect of diet on mental health. Therefore, an article in the journal Nutrition Society reviewed the body of existing analyzes on a diet, nutrition, and mental health.
Therefore, research suggests that the more a person follows a Western diet, with its highly processed foods, the greater the risk of depression and anxiety.
Researchers at the King’s College Institute of Psychiatry in London, UK, have investigated exactly how nutrition can affect mental health. As a result, they have focused their research on the effects of diet on the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is an area of the brain that generates new neurons in a process called neurogenesis. Thus, the study linked neurogenesis in the hippocampus to a person’s mood and cognition.
Stressful experiences reduce neurogenesis in the hippocampus, while antidepressants appear to promote this process.
Food and factors that affect mental health
Factors that can negatively affect neurogenesis in adults include:
- Oxidative stress;
- High-fat diets;
- Excess sugar;
- The alcohol;
Foods and habits that improve mental health
Healthy food and habits appear to promote neurogenesis. These include:
- Diets that include polyunsaturated fatty acids, curcumin, and polyphenols;
- Foods that meet caloric needs without the person eating too much or too little;
- Physical exercise.
So what is the best diet for mental health?
Among common diet plans, the Mediterranean diet has the strongest evidence that it supports the ability to reduce symptoms of depression and other mental health problems. It’s also a methodology that experts routinely recommend for general health and wellness.
Therefore, the compounds in the Mediterranean diet that are associated with lower rates of depression include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids;
- Vitamin D;
- Methyl folate;
Mediterranean diet foods
The Mediterranean diet is based on much higher consumption of natural foods. Mainly those of plant origin, such as olive oil, soy, eggs, and milk. In this way, the methodology reduces the consumption of processed products. Therefore, there are no prepared foods, as they tend to have high levels of refined sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat, in addition to artificial additives.
In the Mediterranean diet you can eat:
- Lots of fruits and vegetables;
- Whole grains;
- Beans and legumes;
- Oilseeds and seeds;
- Olive oil;
- Low to moderate amounts of dairy products, fish, and poultry;
- Small red meat;
- Eggs up to four times a week;
- Low to moderate amounts of wine.