Diet has a huge impact on our well-being.

Today is World Health Day, a day that celebrates health awareness globally. 

In celebration of this day, we looked at how food can affect our emotional and mental well- being.

Speaking to a registered dietitian, Mbali Mapholi of Mbali Mapholi Inc she says the fuel for the brain is food and what we eat directly affects the structure and function of the brain and, ultimately, our mood. 

“Eating high-quality foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, oils, and all other plant nutrients nourishes and protects the brain from oxidation (free radical damage) and inflammation. Eating poor quality foods such as refined and processed foods worsen the body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.

There are many consequences and correlations between not only what we eat, how we feel, and how we ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut”, says Mapholi.

She says the inner workings of our digestive system doesn't just help us digest food but also guide our emotions. That studies have compared “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet.

“This difference has been linked to the fact that these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and to contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.

The typical emotions and mental well-being promoting diet include the following foods:

  • Plenty of all types of Fruits and Vegetables
  • Plant oils: e.g. Avocado, nuts and nut butter, seeds, plant oils e.g. canola oil, olive oil.
  • Wholegrains (high in nutrients & fibre): e.g. Oats, barley, millet, corn, corn kernels (pop-corn), brown rice.
  • Fatty “oily” fish (high in omega 3 Fatty Acids): e.g. Salmon, pilchards, sardines, trout.
  • Fermented foods: e.g. Kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha.