Reach for ice cream when you’re feeling down? Sugar-laden, high-fat foods are comforting, but least likely to benefit mental health

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Credit: 123rf
Credit: 123rf
[O]ver the years, a growing body of research has provided intriguing hints about the ways in which foods may affect our moods. A healthy diet promotes a healthy gut, which communicates with the brain through what is known as the gut-brain axis. Microbes in the gut produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate our mood and emotions, and the gut microbiome has been implicated in mental health outcomes.

Large population studies, too, have found that people who eat a lot of nutrient-dense foods report less depression and greater levels of happiness and mental well-beingOne such study, from 2016, hat followed 12,400 people for about seven years found that those who increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables during the study period rated themselves substantially higher on questionnaires about their general levels of happiness and life satisfaction.

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“Mental health is complex,” said Dr. Jacka, the director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia and the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “Eating a salad is not going to cure depression. But there’s a lot you can do to lift your mood and improve your mental health, and it can be as simple as increasing your intake of plants and healthy foods.”

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