The consumption of highly palatable high-fat and high-sugar foods have increased dramatically over the past years.
Food influences mood. Plain and simple. We know this to be true. The modern-day Western diet is riddled with appetizing “foods” that are high in sugary carbs and unhealthy fats have been shown to be associated with addictive behaviors, emotional eating, learning impairments, mental and behavioral imbalances.
“Food psychiatry” is a new buzz word in the food as medicine world. Though the field is in its infancy, food psychiatry is increasingly being embraced by clinicians and researchers.
Lancet Psychiatry attests. “Although the determinants of mental health are complex, “the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology.”
Many epidemiological studies, including prospective studies, have shown associations between healthy dietary patterns and a reduced prevalence of, and risk for, depression and suicide.
A recent systematic review of 12 epidemiological studies has now confirmed a relation between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.
How does the Western diet adversely affect the brain?
Well, these foods can directly act on your brain to influence your behavior, decision making ability, your mood and more.
The most notorious are the refined carbs which are sugary and set off a systemic inflammatory cascade whose mediators act on your brain to alter mood and behavior.
Sugars are highly addictive and are excitatory to the brain.
But is the opposite true: healthy diet prevents and or mitigates brain disorders?
The answer is, yes. Food is medicine for the brain.
High intakes of fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains were found in a meta-analysis to be associated with a reduced depression risk.
Another meta-analysis quantitatively synthesized all studies that examined the association between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and risk of stroke, depression, cognitive impairment, and Parkinson’s disease. The finding was that high adherence reduced risk for ischemic stroke, mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and particularly Alzheimer disease and depression.
The large European PREDIMED study showed a strong trend towards a reduced risk of depression for individuals randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet with nuts, and this protective effect was particularly evident in those with type 2 diabetes.
Other recent work found that simply discussing diet with a counselor for just 6 hours over the course of 2 years dropped Beck Depression Inventory scores by 40% in elderly patients with depression.
The Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish provide the body an arsenal of anti-inflammatory nutrients and B-vitamins that improve brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids can provide a range of neurochemical activities and various clinical investigations support the potential usefulness of omega-3 fatty acids for disorders including, but not limited to, bipolar depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depression, and they are indicated in the prevention of psychosis.
Lower intakes of B9 (folate) has been reported in depressed populations and in poor responders to antidepressants.
So by avoiding sugary refined carbs and curbing our palates from Western diets, we can optimizing brain health but there is another aspect of diet and brain health to consider.
The gut! The body’s most underrated organ. The intimate connection between the gut to the brain has been exploding in the literature. The microbiota of the digestive tract is a key regulator of this gut-brain axis.
The Western diet adversely affects your brain health indirectly by disrupting your gut bacteria ecosystem and intestinal lining function.
It’s a 2-front war on your body.
So what is the best way to optimize gut and brain health?
Avoid the Western diet at all costs, that’s a no-brainer (pun intended).
The Mediterranean diet represents a balanced nutritional diet, characterized by the consumption of high amounts and frequency of the most important source of fibers (cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts) and chemical compounds with anti-oxidative properties (flavonoids, phytosterols, vitamins, terpenes and phenols). Furthermore, high levels of oleic acid, polyphenols and monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil intake, provides remarkable anti-atherogenic and anti-inflammatory actions.
The Mediterranean diet helps promote a healthy gut microbiome by fertilizing the good gut microbes—it is rich in prebiotic fibers and phytochemicals.
There are a plethora of health benefits you get from following the Mediterranean diet which has been shown to counter diseases associated with chronic inflammation, including metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, obesity, pulmonary diseases, and cognition disorders.
That is why the Mediterranean diet is the diet for the Renew (maintenance) phase of my Gut Balance Revolution plan to sustain weight loss and optimize health and well-being.
Probiotic foods such as kefir and yogurt are part of the Mediterranean diet and these directly seed the gut with healthy bacteria which attenuate mood-alerting inflammation, heal the intestinal lining and balance the function of the gut-brain axis.
A diet rich in fermented foods and beverages likely to contain probiotics may help curb social anxiety in young adults, especially those who are highly neurotic, new research suggests.
The study included 710 students enrolled in introductory courses in psychology at the College of William and Mary. The participants completed questionnaires about fermented food consumption, neuroticism, and social anxiety.
The questionnaire asked about a variety of foods, including yogurt or food or beverages that contain yogurt, kefir, miso soup, sauerkraut, juices that contain microalgae, pickles, tempeh, and kimchi.
In an interaction model that controlled for demographics—general consumption of healthful foods exercise frequency—the researchers found that exercise frequency, neuroticism, and fermented food consumption significantly and independently predicted social anxiety.
Fermented food consumption also interacted with neuroticism in predicting social anxiety. In students with high degrees of neuroticism, a higher frequency of fermented food consumption correlated with fewer symptoms of social anxiety.
These observations are in line with previous preclinical and clinical trials suggesting that probiotics can have an anxiolytic effect. However, this is the first study to examine the relationship between probiotics and social anxiety.
Probiotic foods and supplements have also been shown to modify the body and the brain’s response to stress. Prebiotics have been shown to have an anxiolytic effect by elevating brain derived neurotrophic factor.
The best way to achieve total body wellness is by maintain a healthy inner gut ecology.
To Your Good Health,