The statement “you are what you eat” certainly underscores the critical role that diet plays in maintaining both physical and mental well-being. On World Mental Health Day, it’s essential to explore the undeniable connection between nutrition and mental and emotional health and how we can support our mental well-being by making healthy food choices.
A recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open has added to the growing body of evidence that highlights the link between diet and mental health. This study revealed that the consumption of significant quantities 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 additives. This category includes popular junk food items such as processed meats, alcohol, chips, soda, and carbonated drinks. The research also found that individuals 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.
This study emphasizes the importance of a balanced and nutritious diet not only for physical health but also for mental well-being. It highlights the need to limit the intake of ultra-processed foods, which are often associated with negative health outcomes, and instead, focus on whole, unprocessed foods that provide essential nutrients and support overall mental health. Making informed dietary choices can be a significant step towards safeguarding mental and emotional well-being.
“Ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of depression through various pathways,” explains psychotherapist, Dr Chandni Tugnait, attaching, “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.
Nutritional Deficiencies and Their Impact on Mental Health, According to Clinical Psychologist Gunjan Ryder 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.
Incorporating a Balanced Diet for Enhanced Mental Well-Being. Insights from Dietician Kavita Devgan on 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.”
Nutritionist Archana Batra Emphasizes the Crucial Role of Vitamin B6 in Mental Health, “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.”
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.