A nutrition-filled diet isn’t just good for the body; it’s great for the brain, too. What you eat affects how your immune system works, how your genes work, and how your body responds to stress.
Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University says, by helping people shape their diets, we can improve their mental health and decrease their risk of psychiatric disorders.
Nearly 1 in 4 Americans have some type of mental illness each year. The CDC reports that by 2020, depression will rank as the second leading cause of disability, after heart disease.
It’s not just a problem for adults. Today, childhood mental illness affects more than 17 million kids in the U.S.
Recent studies have shown that the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet. The risk of attention-deficit disorder (ADD) doubles,” Ramsey added.
Good Nutrition Impacts Our Mental Health
1. It’s crucial for brain development.
“We are, really literally, what we eat,” says Roxanne Sukol, MD, a preventive medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “When we eat real food that nourishes us, it becomes the protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters that transfer information and signals between various parts of the brain and body.”
2. It puts the brain into grow mode.
Certain nutrients and dietary patterns are linked to changes in a brain protein that helps increase connections between brain cells. A diet rich in nutrients like omega-3s and zinc boosts levels of this substance.
3. It fills the gut with healthy bacteria.
Trillions of good bacteria live in the gut. They fend off bad germs and keep your immune system in check, which means they help tame inflammation in the body. Some gut germs even help make brain-powering B vitamins.
Foods with beneficial bacteria (probiotics) help maintain a healthy gut environment, or “biome.” “A healthier microbiome is going to decrease inflammation, which affects mood and cognition,” Ramsey says.
A high-sugar diet is bad for gut health and, therefore, your brain. Some research hints that a high-sugar diet worsens schizophrenia symptoms, too.