Nutrition Nuggets: Your Brain on Food


Is your mental health related to what you eat? This question has never been more relevant than in a global pandemic when health experts are worried about the mental health of the population. Months of isolation, decreased physical activity for most people and uncertain times ahead can contribute to anxiety and depression. Can we help our mental state with the foods we eat?

Although there is no one food that you can eat to cure your mental health, scientists are studying patterns of intake and their impact on mental health. This makes sense if you think about what the building blocks of your brain are made of – nutrients!

Studies have compared the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet with the typical Western diet and have shown the risk of depression is 25-35% lower in people following the Mediterranean or Japanese diets. The researchers attribute this to the higher levels of fruits, vegetables and fish in these diets, and very low levels of refined sugars and processed foods. The Western diet is typically high in processed foods, refined sugars and saturated fat.

Food insecurity and mental illness are correlated, with food insecurity increasing the risk of mental health issues, and people with mental health conditions being more likely to be food insecure.

Food insecure households tend to consume diets that are higher in saturated fat, refined sugars and lower in fruits and vegetables, which can also impact development from lack of essential nutrients such as iron.

There is still ongoing research on how food insecurity in children impacts mental health. One longitudinal study in Quebec found that there was an association between food insecurity in young children, with hyperactivity/inattention.

Other studies have looked at the longer-term effects on childhood hunger. This study analyzed data from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth and found child hunger was a predictor in adolescent and young adult depression, and suicidal ideation.

We do know that children who are food insecure feel the effects every day. Making an impact on children’s hunger in Calgary is why I Can for Kids continues to support families across the city.


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