Here’s what science tells us about the 

link between nutrition and mental health

5 ways you can improve your mental health through nutrition

By Salma Metwally

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice and you should consult a physician or other trained professional if you have any serious concerns. The content of this article is not to be used as a replacement for any (ongoing) medical care, and will not treat or cure disease or illness.

For decades, scientists have been trying to determine which vitamins, minerals, and compounds affect our brains and our mental health. Luckily, some of these compounds can be found in the foods we eat everyday or the supplement section at the grocery store! Eating nutritious food and taking care of our brain’s growth and functioning is key to improving how we feel on a day-to-day basis.

Oxidative stress and foods that help reduce its harmful effects

Before discussing which foods can help our brains, we need to talk about the foods that could harm our brains. However, this only occurs when you consume an excessive amount of these foods; don’t forget to enjoy all the kinds of food you love. Diets (not individual foods) that are high in fats and sugars or are highly processed can lead to something called oxidative stress. Oxidation happens when an atom loses an electron. The atoms that “steal” these electrons are called free radicals. When food is broken down to create energy for the body, it releases free radicals. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because we have antioxidants in our bodies that bind to the free radicals and donate an electron to keep them happy. A small number of free radicals is actually healthy and necessary for development and fighting off pathogens. However, processed foods release too many free radicals in the body, and if we don't have enough antioxidants, these free radicals will bind with important molecules in our body, like our DNA, and change their chemical composition. 

Some studies even show that oxidative stress can lead to neurodegeneration, cancers, diabetes, and chronic inflammation. Newer studies also show that oxidative stress is implicated in depression, anxiety, and our overall mood.  A way to reduce the negative effects of oxidative stress is to eat foods that are high in antioxidants. Some of these foods include dark chocolate, pecans, berries, artichokes, kale, cabbage, leafy greens, pomegranates, and beets. However, this is not the only way to reduce oxidative stress; some important things to avoid are smoking, pollution, and chronic stress in your daily life.