The number of patients complaining of depression and anxiety and taking an antidepressant has increased significantly in the past years. Is there a link between the modern diet and increased depression? Even though our brain is just two percent of our body weight, it takes about a fifth to half of our body’s overall metabolism to keep it running. Studies found that both children and adults had a better mood after improving their diet.
As I was checking out of one of our favorite supermarkets in Beijing, I noticed that the variety of green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, peanuts, eggs, and grains in the basket of an elderly Chinese couple in front of us contrasted greatly with my shopping cart full of ‘imported’ pasta, grain crackers, and corn chips.
Frequent consumption of processed foods may be one of the reasons why modern food is not supplying enough nutrients and minerals to keep our brains happy. Several studies have found that people who eat a western ‘processed’ diet are more likely to have mood and anxiety symptoms compared to those who eat an unprocessed whole food diet.
Powerful advertising funded by the large processed food companies is successful in making many parents believe that the food that comes in a box, package, or jar is better for their child than the food their grandparents used to prepare with local grains, seeds, nuts, plants, and berries. When I ask my young patients what they eat for breakfast more than half of the time, they mention some sort of processed breakfast cereal.
It takes mindfulness and planning to keep the food on our table as varied, fresh and natural as possible when there are so many factors such as limited time for shopping and preparation, child taste preferences, social and cultural influences that compete to make processed food a seemingly easier choice.
Ensuring Optimal Brain Performance
– If someone is suffering from anxiety or severe mood changes, it is important to take a close look at the food they are eating. Does the diet contain a variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy oils?
– Notice if your diet is unbalanced. Vitamin B12 deficiency is quite common among people who follow very strict diets such as vegan or very low-calorie diets. Even mild B12 deficiency was found to impair school performance in adolescents.
– Oils are very important for the brain. Try to supply your children and yourself with a variety of food rich in healthy oils such as walnuts, avocado, sesame seeds and fish. Omega 3 daily supplements help to balance the mood and improve learning.
– During stressful times the daily requirement of certain vitamins may be higher, particularly the B vitamins. Make sure to take time to eat properly and do not forget to take your vitamins during exams and other demanding times of year.
– Check for iron deficiency. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend all children should be checked at least once at 12 months for iron deficiency. Premature children or those who get sick frequently should be checked again during their second and fifth year. Studies have found that it makes it more difficult for children to learn math and develop their brain properly when they have iron deficiency.
This article appeared on p26-27 of beijingkids December 2017 issue.