Author: Elena Menchetti
Publication date: 14.11.2023
Did you know that your diet plays a crucial role in your physical and mental health? In particular, depending on the foods you eat, your brain and body’s functioning can change. This means that some foods are healthier for you than others.
Now let’s look at the reasons behind this “healthy” label and why some foods enhance while others hinder our well-being.
Healthy vs unhealthy diets
An unhealthy diet is usually one which is high in saturated fats, salt, and sugar. People with an unhealthy diet tend to eat a lot of processed and packaged foods like snacks, sugary drinks, and fried food. Actually, an unhealthy diet lacks the nutrients your body and brain need for effective functioning. These include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates, and fatty acids among others.
On the other hand, a healthy diet is usually characterized by high amounts of fruits and vegetables. These bring your body the fibers it needs for optimal digestion. Besides that, a healthy diet is also one that includes the right amount of proteins, carbs, and healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, fish, and olive oil.
To illustrate this point, according to research, food can influence our physical and mental health, as well as our thoughts, moods, and behaviors. What about you? Have you noticed any changes in your mood or behavior based on what you eat?
Diet and physical health
Results of unhealthy habits
A high consumption of refined sugar and saturated fats can reduce your ability to perceive satiety signals and can lead to overeating. If overeating lasts for a long time and is paired with a lack of physical activity, a person is likely to gain weight and eventually becomes obese. With these two health conditions, very present in today’s society, come additional health problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol.
Strong physical health
As opposed to an unhealthy diet, which may cause disease and inflammation, the proper nutrition from a healthy diet can improve your physical health. Indeed, having a healthy diet can help in preventing heart disease and obesity, as well as lowering the risk of cancer. The consumption of healthy foods can equally improve muscle and bones’ health, and boost your immune system.
Impact of diet on brain health
Because of the close connection between your body and brain, an unhealthy diet can have a direct negative impact too. This can be both on your psychological and neurological health.
Psychologically, a poor diet is associated with sleep problems, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and low self-esteem. These factors are in turn often associated with mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
Neurologically, a diet that lacks essential nutrients is likely to affect brain development, brain functioning and learning.
Mental health effects
Adopting a healthy diet - although not the cure - can improve one’s overall mental health. This is because it reduces the release of some of the hormones implicated in mental health disorders and their symptoms. In addition, what you eat is what your brain uses to drive most of your everyday actions.
Good nutrition can improve many brain functions such as thinking, learning and memorizing. What’s more, a healthy diet has been found to increase people’s longevity or lifespan. Think about this next time you want to pick that cookie box at the supermarket!
It is important to think about what you eat, as well as how you eat it, if you want to optimize your physical and mental health. No wonder why people say “we are what we eat”. The composition and activities of our cells can literally be determined by the foods we consume.
Different people, different needs
However, it is also important to note that a healthy diet might look different to everyone. Some people may need a higher amount of proteins, while others a higher amount of fats. Besides that, a healthy diet is usually one that is balanced. This means that cutting off snacks or fried foods completely from your diet might not be the healthiest option either.
The key thing is that you listen to your body and what it craves, keeping in mind the power of your thoughts and emotions. This is because emotions can sometimes play tricks on us. They can make us believe that our bodies crave that sweet cake or energy drink. Yet in reality we simply want it because we are tired or had a stressful day at work.
Hence, there is a difference between giving yourself a treat and enjoying it on some occasions, and eating treats all the time in replacement of more nutritious meals.