Thu | Sep 21, 2017

FOOD FOR THOUGHT?

Published:Tuesday | October 6, 2015 | 10:00 AM

We hear people make reference to 'brain food', which suggests that certain foods have a special impact on our brain function. This refers to the potential positive impact that some foods can have, but what about the negative impacts?

Studies have been done which have shown that a diet rich in highly processed foods is likely to be associated with depression. One study done in Australia showed that a poor diet is associated with cognitive deficits. Adolescents who regularly indulged in a diet of chips, chocolate, sweets, pizza, and soda showed a deterioration of their mental health status.

It has also been shown that the behaviour of children in the first five years can be influenced by the diet of their pregnant mothers.

Having the kind of diet mentioned above has been shown to be associated with aggression, hyperactivity and tantrums in the children, independent of their childhood diet. Poor eating habits of these children also predisposed them to problems such as worrying, anxiety, and sadness. One study even showed that adults who indulged in a diet rich in processed and unhealthy foods were more likely to suffer from anxiety.

It appears that neurotrophins, brain

proteins that protect the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells, are negatively affected by a diet rich in saturated fats and refined sugars, and hence, increase the risk of depression. In fact, those who ate fast foods on a regular basis were 40 per cent more likely to suffer from depression. Baked products such as doughnuts and foods high in trans fats seem to also be associated with a higher risk of depression.

Memory and cognition (the ability of the brain to efficiently process information) are also affected by diet. High consumption of saturated and trans fats and sugars has been shown to have a negative impact. They seem to be associated with a higher risk of dementia and even Alzheimer's disease.

One interesting discovery is that the diet may influence the brain through the effect it has on the bacteria in the gut, which then affects the nervous system in the gut, which in turn, influences the brain.

Foods which have a positive impact on the brain include dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and those that make up the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in omega-3, seafood, and plant-based foods.