Brain Food: What You Eat Impacts Your Mental Health
The potential benefits of some diets are truly food for thought
January 14, 2024
Diet has a direct impact on how well our bodies function, from digestion and sleep to feeling tired or having the ability to focus.
There have been plenty of fad diets over the decades as well as popular ones that get a lot of fanfare. Some have been shown to work, while others are simply marketing gimmicks aimed at selling commercial products with little evidence to point to their effectiveness.
Two diets that have resurfaced in popularity, intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet, can be impactful on your physical health—and your mental health too. As research around these two diets has grown, their potential benefits to our mental health are more obvious now than ever before.
Keep Reading To Learn
- The truth about the ketogenic diet and its safety
- The proven mental health benefits related to diet
- Where to start when considering changing your eating habits
Intermittent Fasting: What You Need To Know
Over the years, we’ve been advised on different ways to eat—three square meals, the food pyramid, a snack every 90 minutes, and so on. While different eating habits benefit different people, varying advice has led to health epidemics: obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic conditions.
In addition, overeating—or eating too frequently—can raise glucose and insulin levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, which may cause higher levels of inflammation—something that has been found in many people with psychiatric disorders.
So how do we reshape our diets to work for our bodies—and our minds?
“Fasting is tapping into our fuel stores that we’ve saved for a rainy day,” explains Christopher M. Palmer, MD, director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital, and pioneer of the use of the ketogenic diet in psychiatry.
“When we go into a fasting state, not only do we tap into some of these stores and reserves … our body actually uses that opportunity to look for old or damaged cells and recycles them.” Our cells then use the recycled parts of old or damaged cells as energy sources. “When you eat again,” Palmer shares, “you get new ones again.”
Fasting and intermittent fasting are obvious ways to reduce the number of calories eaten. But fasting can also reduce glucose, insulin levels, and inflammation.
“The challenge with fasting,” Palmer explains, “is that you have to find the right balance.” And while there are clinics that host supervised fasts for a week or even up to a month, this extreme fasting can backfire.
“When we talk about fasting, we’re talking about skipping one meal, maybe two meals, or having one large meal and a snack,” Palmer says. “If you’re looking to become more athletic, fasting can take a toll on your metabolism, your muscle mass, and your athletic performance.”
It’s encouraged to seek clinical advice before starting a fasting regimen, Palmer shares. “There are always risks in trying or doing it. You have to do it in the right amount for your body and your medical condition.”