By Terry Kanakri
We’ve all heard the saying, ‘You are what you eat!’ It turns out that what you eat not only has an impact on your physical health but also on your mental health.
According to Silvia Delgado, a registered dietician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, an unhealthy diet rich in carbohydrates, sugar and fatty foods can contribute to or deepen anxiety and depression, as well as promote poor memory and neurological disease such as dementia.
“Diets that promote anxiety or depression include refined starches, sugars and saturated fatty acids,” Delgado said. “Higher intake of saturated fatty acids in young adulthood, as well as later life, are associated with worse cognitive function, memory impairment and increased vulnerability to age-related deficits and neurological diseases, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Sources of saturated fatty acids include butter, ghee, lard, coconut oil, cheese and fatty meats. High saturated fats can potentially alter cognitive function by promoting brain inflammation.”
A Western Diet – including consumption of sweetened beverages, refined foods, fried food, processed meat, refined grains, snacks and pastries – has also been associated with an increased risk of depression in studies, Delgado noted.
The Women’s Health Initiative (which studied eating habits of 87,000 postmenopausal women) concluded that a diet progressively higher in dietary glycemic index (such as refined pasta, white rice and white bread) that puts one at risk of developing diabetes was also found to be associated with increased odds of depression. Higher consumption of added sugar was also associated with increased odds of depression.
Delgado noted that a whole food plant-based diet is associated with healthier gut bacteria, and a healthier gut is associated with improved mental health.
About the author: Terry Kanakri is a Senior Media Relations Specialist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region.