The brain is one of the largest organs in the body and, like our hearts, livers and other organs, it is affected by what we eat and drink. However, unlike with other organs, the links between diet and the brain – and hence how we think and act – are not yet widely recognised.
Despite a large number of peer-reviewed and published research studies, scientific understanding of how food affects mental health is far from complete. However, it is already clear that our diets affect how our brains are made and how they work throughout our lives, from foetal development to old age. The significance of diet for mental health and well-being varies, but there appears to be no point in the human life-cycle at which diet has no effect.
There are some important nutrients for brain development and function, but they can only work properly if a wide range of other nutrients are also available in the right amounts and in proportion to each other. There is no “magic bullet” or single nutrient that holds the key to mental health and well-being.
The combination of nutrients that is most commonly associated with good mental health and well-being is as follows:
- polyunsaturated fatty acids (particularly the omega 3 types found in oily fish and some plants);
- minerals, such as zinc (in whole grains, legumes, meat and milk), magnesium (in green leafy vegetables, nuts and whole grains), and iron (in red meat, green leafy vegetables, eggs and some fruit); and
- vitamins, such as folate (in green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals), a range of B vitamins (whole grain products, yeast and dairy products), and antioxidant vitamins such as C and E (in a wide range of fruit and vegetables).
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