You Are What You Eat

Table of Content

Food has an influence over most of the functioning of the human body, including problems like depression, stress and neurological problems. "You are what you eat..." is all about what you should eat and what you should avoid to keep your mind healthy. It provides information about foods that can decrease or increase your risk of neuropsychiatric problems. You can avoid the risk by consuming the right and avoiding the wrong. This guide has some enlightening points towards a healthier mind and a healthier you!

Which is the Best Diet for Your Brain?

Unhealthy diets may increase the risk for psychiatric and neurologic conditions, such as depression, psychosis and dementia, whereas healthy diets may be protective. Change to a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and unsaturated fat (common in olive and other plant oils). This can reduce your risk for depression up to 30% compared to those who consume meatier, dairy-heavy diet. 1

Fats: What to Include and What to Avoid

Polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFAs (found in nuts, seeds, fish, and leafy green vegetables) and monounsaturated fatty acids, MUFAs (found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts) decrease the risk for depression over time. 2,3

Studies suggest that including trans fats can increase the risk of depression. Trans fats are found extensively in processed foods, including many commercial chocolates. 4

A deficiency in polyunsaturated fatty acids has been linked to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. 4

Let's Go Fishing!!!

Fishes are rich in PUFAs, namely omega-3 fatty acids. Fish consumption is correlated with a lower risk of psychotic symptoms. Fish oil may help prevent psychosis in high-risk individuals. 5,6

Although data are conflicting, research shows that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in depression and postpartum depression.

Oily fishes like salmon (surmai), herring and mackerel (bombil) have the highest omega-3 levels.

Alcohol: How Much?

According to a study, limited alcohol use is associated with a lower risk for overall and Alzheimer dementia. 8 Moderate* alcohol intake may protect against cerebrovascular disease, with wine potentially having added benefit because of its antioxidant components.

Heavy and long-term alcohol use can lead to alcohol abuse and dependence, impair memory function, contribute to neurodegenerative disease and hinder psychosocial functioning.

A Lot Can Happen with a Cup of Coffee...

Coffee beans also contain antioxidant compounds. A study in 2011 reported that women who drink 2-3 cups of coffee per day have a 15% decreased risk for depression; compared to those who drink less than 1 cup per week9 Coffee contains caffeine that elevates the levels of serotonin - the good mood chemicals in the body.

Long-term effects on mood may relate to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, both factors that are thought to play a role in depressive illnesses.

Avoid excessive coffee, tea or caffeine drinks. Include green tea instead; this is rich in antioxidants.

Chocolate: The Good Mood Food...

Chocolate - the darker the better - is rich in flavonoids that have an uplifting effect. Studies have found that consumption of 6g of chocolate daily was associated with a 39% lower combined risk of myocardial infarction and stroke. 10

However, it is high in fat and sugar, and one must not eat it as a recommended remedy.


Stress can cause oxidative damage to the brain that can lead to diminished brain function. Get enough antioxidants to not only protect your brain but also your kidneys, heart and liver from oxidative damage.

Including berries like strawberries and blueberries, and dark pigmented fruits and vegetables in your diet can decrease age-related deficits in brain function like learning and memory. 7

Foods to Avoid...

Diets rich in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates have detrimental effects on the immune system and lead to oxidative stress, the factors that are known to play a role in depression.

A diet rich in high-fat dairy foods and fried, refined, and sugary foods significantly increases the risk for depression.

Findings from a study in Spain show that intake of foods such as pizza and hamburgers increased the risk of depression over time, 3 and in another similar study, women with a diet higher in processed foods were more likely to have major clinical depression. 7

Excess salt intake has been associated with increased blood pressure and stroke risk. 11,12 Recent data also correlate high salt intake, as well as diets high in trans or saturated fats with impaired cognition. 13,14

Food for the Brain

  • Two servings of fatty fish a week
  • 1-2 tbsps of flax seeds (alsi), or about seven walnuts in a day
  • Nuts, oilseeds (castor, corn, mustard etc.), whole grains and low fat dairy products
  • Natural antidepressants: almonds, apples and carrots
  • Foods high in vitamin B3 like sprouts, lentils, chicken, egg; foods high in vitamin C and A like broccoli, banana, carrots and melons.
  • Three to five servings of fresh fruits (any) daily
  • Avoid drinking excess of coffee, tea or caffeine drinks, especially after sunset
  • Switch to green tea, which is rich in antioxidants
  • Avoid sugar, sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates (found in sweeteners, beverages, frozen fruits, refined grains and most packaged foods)
  • Dark chocolate has an uplifting effect (but consumption should be limited)


1. Sanchez-Villegas A, Delgado-Rodrfguez M, Alonso A, et al. Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra follow-up (SUN) cohort. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66:1090-1098.
2. Sanchez-Villegas A, Verberne L, De Irala J, et al. Dietary fat intake and the risk of depression: the SUN project. PLoSOne. 2011;6:e16268.
3. Sanchez-ViIIegas A, Toledo E, de Irala J, Ruiz-Canela M, Pla-Vidal), Martinez-Gonzalez MA. Fast-food and commercial baked goods consumption and the risk of depression. Public Health Nutr. 2012;15:424-432.
4. Millichap JG, Yee MM. The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics. 2012;129:330-337.
5. Hedelin M, Lof M, Olsson M, et al. Dietary intake of fish, omega-3, omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin D and the prevalence of psychotic-like symptoms in a cohort of 33000 women from the general population. BMC Psychiatry. 2010;10:38.
6. Amminger GP, Schafer MR, Papageorgiou K, et al. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for indicated prevention of psychotic disorders: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67:146-154.
7. New mechanism for berries' potential brain benefits uncovered. Accessed January 10, 2012.
8. Wayerer S, Schaufele M, Wiese B, et al; German AgeCoDe Study group (German Study on Ageing, Cognition and Dementia in Primary Care Patients). Current alcohol consumption and its relationship to incident dementia: results from a 3-year follow-up study among primary care attenders aged 75 years and older. Age Ageing. 2011;40:456-463.
9. Lucas M, Mirzaei F, Pan A, et al. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171:1571-1578.
10. Buijsse B, Weikert C, Drogan, Bergmann M, Boeing H. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart J. 2010;31:1616-1623.
11. Frieden TR, Briss PA. We can reduce dietary sodium, save money, and save lives. Ann Intern Med. 2010:152:526-527, W182.
12. Dickinson BD, Havas S; Council on Science and Public Health, American Medical Association. Reducing the population burden of cardiovascular disease by reducing sodium intake: a report of the Council on Science and Public Health. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1460-1468.
13. Fiocco AJ, Shatenstein B, Ferland G, et al. Sodium intake and physical activity impact cognitive maintenance in older adults: the NuAge Study. Neurobiol Aging. 2011 Aug 18.
14. Parrott MD, Greenwood CE. Dietary influences on cognitive function with aging: from high-fat diets to healthful eating. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007;1114:389-397.
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