More and more research is saying yes, food can and does impact our mental health.
Everything inside us - our muscles, tissues, blood and bone marrow - is made up of the nutrients we derive from food. So why should it be a surprise that food also affects perhaps the most important organ in our body… our brain, and therefore our mental health as well?
It is now known that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain - which actually begins in the gut. In fact, studies show that high consumption of red or processed meat (e.g. bacon, sausages and luncheon meat), refined grains (e.g. white rice and white bread), fried foods, sweets, fat-rich dairy products, butter and potatoes, and low intake of fruit and vegetables - all major features of a Western diet - is associated with an increased risk of depression.
On the other hand, a diet emphasising vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and other seafood, and containing limited amounts of lean meats and dairy, bolsters mental health - because it is anti-inflammatory. The DASH diet is precisely that. Latest studies in the US have demonstrated that DASH may reduce the risk of depression in adults by 11%, compared with a Western diet.
Originally developed to prevent and treat high blood pressure, DASH (short for 'Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension') has also proven extremely effective in lowering blood cholesterol. The impressive multiple benefits of this healthy eating plan have thus enabled it to beat nearly 40 other diets to the title "Best Diet Overall", awarded by the world's leading publisher of rankings and consumer advice, US News and World Report, for the eighth year in a row!
There is little doubt these days about the power of food as medicine. When people take probiotics (which contain "good" bacteria), for example, their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who do not take probiotics.
But living in a food paradise such as Hong Kong, and given the city's hectic pace of life, how do you know which diet would work best for you? Scientists say the genetic makeup of an individual influences his or her response to various dietary substances. It also explains why people respond differently to the same nutrient.
With the many remarkable advances in medical technology today, taking a DNA test and understanding your genetic profile is certainly the most convincing way to guide your choices in eating for better health overall.
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