You are what you eat — this age-old expression best sums up the integral role that diet plays in one’s physical and mental well-being. On World Mental Health Day, we delve into the undeniable role of nutrition in safeguarding mental as well as emotional well-being and how we can nourish our minds by consuming the right food.
A recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open has added to the mounting evidence on the link between diet and mental health. Its findings indicate that consuming large amounts of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) especially those containing artificial sweeteners, can contribute to the risk of developing depression. Ultra-processed foods are notorious for their high levels of salt, sugar, hydrogenated fats and additive content. This category includes popular junk food items like processed meat, alcohol, chips, soda and carbonated drinks. The research also found that those who consumed nine portions or more of these foods in a day had a 49% increased risk of depression compared to those who consumed fewer than four portions.
Food and mood: Breaking down the link
“Ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of depression through various pathways,” explains psychotherapist, Dr Chandni Tugnait, adding, “This can happen by triggering inflammation, disrupting blood sugar levels, damaging gut health, creating nutrient deficiencies, overstimulating reward circuits in the brain, displacing the intake of wholesome foods and exposing consumers to potentially harmful chemicals.” Since these foods tend to be low in essential nutrients like magnesium, zinc and B vitamins but are high in inflammatory elements, they can disrupt key systems, neurotransmitters and hormones.
Adding to this, Gunjan Ryder, clinical psychologist, shares that the nutritional deficiencies mentioned above are “directly linked to depressive symptoms such as low mood, fatigue and irritability”. “UPFs also affect gut health adversely, which can give rise to mental health issues due to the gut-brain axis,” adds Ryder.
Eat your way to good mental health
In the same way that a balanced diet is imperative for maintaining physical health, it plays a crucial role in mental well-being, too. Dietician Kavita Devgan advises eating “a lot of good fats”, to start with. “Our brain needs good fats in the form of seeds, nuts, cold-pressed oils and fish. A diet that has everything in moderation is the key to ensure that the brain is functioning at its optimum level for a longer time.”
Elaborating on the importance of vitamin B6 for mental health, nutritionist Archana Batra says, “Found abundantly in foods like bananas, chickpeas, and poultry, vitamin B6 is essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating mood and emotions. Tryptophan, an amino acid commonly associated with inducing a sense of calmness and relaxation, also plays a significant role. Foods like turkey, nuts and seeds are rich sources of tryptophan. Also, incorporating adaptogens like ashwagandha into your diet may help regulate the body’s stress response, supporting a calmer and more balanced mental state.”
Courtesy – www.hindustantimes.com