The Impact of Diet and Nutritional Choices on Mood, Cognitive Function, and Overall Mental Well-Being
Written by: Zafra Aswar Ali
In this current, bustling era, learning about the type of food we consume and how it has an impact on our well-being has become of utmost importance. Specifically, the pieces of evidence that reveal the connection between diet and the risk of developing common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are innumerable. As a result, this has led to the emergence of nutritional psychology which is an evolving discipline that aims to study the effect of food on mental well-being. Therefore, whatever food choices we make, we need to ensure that they are beneficial to not only our physical health but also to our mental well-being. Because what we eat and drink has a significant influence in determining our behaviours, feelings, and thought processes.
Let us explore the connection between diet and health by looking at the results of making conscious food choices in achieving a better state of mental well-being.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The connection between the gut and the central nervous system is one of the important aspects of understanding the relationship between food choices and mental health. This is a bi-directional communication network between the gut and the brain, connected via a system of chemicals, hormones, and neurons. Furthermore, it comprises the microbiome which is the collection of microbes inclusive of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes that naturally exist in our bodies.
According to research, these microbes affect the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, the level of inflammation, and brain structure. Hence, the food we consume can have a direct impact on determining the state of our mental health. To improve mental health, incorporating fermented food and fibre-rich food into your diet is highly recommended as they encourage the growth of beneficial microbes.
Nutrition and Mood
The choices of food we make can undoubtedly affect our mood and providentially certain foods can enhance the mood such as fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds that are enriched in omega-3 fatty acids. These foods have been proven to reduce depression and improve mood. Likewise, whole grains and legumes rich in complex carbohydrates increase the production of the neurotransmitter – serotonin which is connected to promoting a positive mood.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet has been introduced by focusing on the dietary patterns of the Mediterranean region. It is inclusive of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, and seeds. According to research studies, following a diet that contains these foods aids in lowering the risk of depression and anxiety as well as cognitive impairment. Thus, the Mediterranean diet has gained attention in terms of the benefits it has on both physical and mental health.
The Role of Micronutrients
Vitamins and minerals are the main types of micronutrients that are vital in not only maintaining good physical health but also aiding optimum brain functioning. In terms of vitamins, the B vitamins like folate, B6, and B12 that are present mainly in animal products, fortified cereals, leafy greens, and legumes play a significant role in reducing the risk of developing depression and cognitive decline. Vitamin D that can be acquired even from morning sunlight has a similar impact on mental well-being.
In addition to these vitamins, minerals such as magnesium and zinc present in nuts and seeds, eggs, and certain vegetables and fruits can potentially reduce stress levels.
Sugar and Processed Food
Consuming food that contains high levels of sugar as well as processed food has detrimental effects on mental health, increasing the risk of developing depression and anxiety. Additionally, such foods can drastically increase the level of blood sugar which in turn leads to the development of various mood disorders. Therefore, processed food and food with high sugar levels must be avoided.
The diet and nutritional choices we make can significantly affect our mood, cognition, and overall mental health emphasising the fact that food choices must be made cautiously to avoid dangerous repercussions as it is not limited to physical health only. Hence, we must be mindful of investing in a balanced diet that includes the necessary amounts of nutrients and less sugar levels as a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and assists in upholding a physically and mentally balanced lifestyle.