What foods should you avoid?
1. Saturated fats/refined carbohydrates.
Both these products have highly detrimental effects on the immune system, oxidative stress, and neurotrophins, all factors that are known to play a role in depression. Multiple clinical studies show that a diet rich in high-fat dairy foods and fried, refined, and sugary foods significantly increases risk for depression. Similar findings were seen in another study from Spain, showing that intake of such foods as pizza and hamburgers increased the risk for depression over time, and in another study, women with a diet higher in processed foods were more likely to have clinical major depression or dysthymia (ie, chronic, low-level depression). Research published last year also showed for the first time that quality of adolescents’ diets was linked to mental health: Healthier diets were associated with reduced mental health symptoms and unhealthy diets with increased mental health symptoms over time.
Excess salt intake has been long known to increase blood pressure and stroke risk; however, recent data also correlate high salt intake, as well as diets high in trans or saturated fats, with impaired cognition. Current dietary guidelines recommend limiting sodium to 2300 mg a day (about a teaspoonful). Checking labels on goods (especially processed foods) is a helpful way to assess how much salt you take in a day. The average American consumes more than 3400 mg a day, which is well above the daily recommended intake.
Going out to eat significantly poses a number of challenges, since many restaurants (especially those serving fast food) sell dishes very high in fat, refined carbs, and salt. How can you work around it? Options include checking out the menu in advance of going out to eat, choosing your selection before you get there; asking restaurants to provide a breakdown of the sodium, fat, or calorie content before ordering (and many chains already offer this); getting your salad dressing or sauce for your entrée on the side; or, instead of getting a starch and a side of vegetables with your entrée, simply requesting a double order of steamed vegetables. If you go out shopping, Trader Joe’s is a local grocery chain that sells a significant number of low-salt and low-carb products.
Hopefully, these blogs on Food For Your Brain will provide a place to start when making decisions about starting dietary changes to improve both physical and emotional health. It can be very daunting trying to parse out the truth about what to eat vs. what not to eat. Educating yourself about nutrition can be the first step in making the quality of your life better.