Keep your mental health in top form with the proper diet


Q: If what you eat has so much to do with the health of your body, does it also affect your mental health?

Emily G., Rockford, Ill.

A: Very smart question, and the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Various studies have found that diet and depression are related (both ways — what you eat can fuel depression, and depression can fuel poor nutrition). In fact, it’s been shown that each 10 percent increase in eating highly processed foods bumps up the risk of depression by 21 percent. Seems those foods can change your gut bacteria, and that can lead to brain changes.

Now researchers from Binghamton University have info gathered from 2,600 people over five years that looks at the effect of diet on the mental health of men and women ages 18 to 30 and 30 and older.

Their study, published in Nutrients, found young women have better mental health if they eat breakfast daily, don’t eat fast food or drink too much caffeine. Older women need to follow those guidelines, plus increase their intake of fresh fruit. Young men, on the other hand, thrive mentally if they take it easy on dairy and caffeine, ditch fast food and get plenty of protein. Older men need to make sure they add nuts to their diet.

The researchers believe differences in the physical functioning of the male and female brain influence the distinct impact of diet on men’s and women’s mental health. They say women’s good mental health depends on them eating a wide spectrum of healthy foods; for men, the biggest message is no fast food — that’s their main trigger of mental distress.

But you can’t just eat your way out of mental misery. Turns out that for everyone, moderate to intense exercise is also a requirement for good mental health! So grab some real comfort food — that’s vegetables, fruits and lean proteins that are unprocessed and full of nutrients — and then head out the door for a walk or jog.

Q: There are a lot of alternative treatments online to help deal with COVID-19. Some sound pretty good. What do you think?

Gerald R., Richmond, Va.

A: Every crisis provides an opportunity for scammers and dreamers — and that means there is a huge number of COVID-19-related products out there that promise to prevent, treat or cure the virus based on nothing but guesses, suppositions, internet gossip and fabrications, and, in some cases, the inclination to perpetrate downright fraud.


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