Brain food: The strong link between diet and mental health - Sovereign Health Group
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diet for mental health
05-09-16 Category: Mental Health, Nutrition, Recovery

diet for mental health

“You are what you eat” is a phrase that has been around for ages and still holds true. Your diet can dramatically impact your body’s physiology, causing potential harm if you consume unhealthy food. Not only is the physical body affected, but the mind can also be affected. The Western diet is notorious for being the unhealthiest diet in the world. Processed food, refined sugars and grains, soda, sugary sports drinks, fried food and hormone-injected meat only lead to weight gain, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, and the list goes on. America is one of the unhealthiest countries in the world due to diet and lack of exercise. The link between diet and mental health is also strong, and a poor diet may be correlated as to why Americans have so many mental health problems. A study from Medscape explores the relationship between food and mental health.

Strong, consistent data

One of the studies the authors at Medscape reviewed took place in Australia. The authors found that individuals from 60 to 65 years of age who ate the Western junk diet had a smaller hippocampus than those who ate traditional whole food. The hippocampus plays an integral role in memory and processing.

Another study found that foods with a high glycemic index, also known as high in sugar, showed an increased link to depression.

Cocoa has been shown to improve cognitive function in older Americans. This dark chocolate is very rich in antioxidants. Keep in mind, though, that real cocoa (dark chocolate) does not have milk or refined sugar, both of which are in milk chocolate, which is deemed very unhealthy.

“There has been a very strong, consistent message from observational data that a whole-foods diet is associated with better mental health, better cognitive function, less depression, less anxiety, less bipolar disorder, and on and on. In 2015, we had the completion of a couple of randomized controlled trials, one of which was a modified Mediterranean diet for the treatment of major depressive disorder,” wrote Emily Deans, M.D., in Medscape Psychiatry.

Foods good for the brain

Although antidepressants are the first-line pharmaceutical treatment for depression, healthy foods and adequate exercise have been known to curb depressive symptoms. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish and nuts are generally termed “brain food” because they help with memory and mood. Foods high in antioxidants include dark leafy greens, blueberries, tomatoes and most other vegetables that have a dark, rich color. Antioxidants have been shown to increase blood flow to the brain and promote neuronal growth and stimulation. In other words, they are good for your brain.

Carbohydrates are a mainstay of the Western diet and are many Americans’ best friend. Although carbohydrates are broken down into sugar and can lead to weight gain, there are carbohydrates that are better for you. Stick to whole grains, and stay away from white grains and multi-grains, as these are made with refined flour and are stripped of vitamins. Substituting alternatives for rice and pasta can easily be done with foods such as spaghetti squash, cauliflower rice or pizza crust, quinoa (a protein-rich seed), and many other types of grains. You can visit your favorite healthy cooking website for a complete list.

At the end of the day, your brain is one of the most important organs and it is imperative that you take good care of it. That is why the Sovereign Health Group offers each patient a customized, holistic treatment plan to brain wellness. Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health care provider with locations across the United States that treat people with addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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