Brain food

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COVENTRY, United Kingdom — A healthy diet benefits the brain in more ways than you might think. According to researchers from the University of Warwick, there’s a “profound” link between a person’s dietary choices and their brain health. More specifically, this latest research found that a healthy, balanced diet contributes to superior brain health, cognitive function, and mental well-being.

Researchers analyzed dietary choices among a large group of 181,990 participants from the U.K. Biobank and also performed numerous physical evaluations, including cognitive function, blood metabolic biomarkers, brain imaging, and genetics. This process led to revealing new insights regarding the relationship between nutrition and overall well-being.

The team collected food preferences for each participant using an online survey, which the researchers categorized into 10 groups (alcohol, fruits, meats, etc). Then, a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning helped researchers analyze the large dataset.

A balanced diet showed an association with stronger mental health, better cognitive functioning, and even larger levels of grey matter in the brain (which is linked to intelligence) in comparison to others with a less healthy diet.

This work, published in the journal Nature Mental Health, also highlights the need for gradual dietary modifications, especially for people who have grown accustomed to highly palatable but nutritionally deficient foods — simply put, people who love tasty junk food more than healthier options. Using a slow reduction in sugar and fat intake over time, the hope is individuals will find themselves naturally gravitating towards healthier food choices.

Woman eating snacks and junk food while working at desk
A more balanced diet showed an association with stronger mental health, better cognitive functioning, and even larger levels of grey matter in the brain, compared to eating tastier junk food. (© Juliaap – stock.adobe.com)

Genetic factors may also play a role in the association between diet and brain health, researchers note, showcasing how a combination of genetic predispositions and lifestyle choices shape well-being. Professor Jianfeng Feng from the University of Warwick stresses the importance of establishing healthy food preferences as early as possible in life.

“Developing a healthy balanced diet from an early age is crucial for healthy growth. To foster the development of a healthy balanced diet, both families and schools should offer a diverse range of nutritious meals and cultivate an environment that supports their physical and mental health,” Feng says in a media release.

Meanwhile, regarding the broader implications of this research project, Prof. Feng emphasizes the role of public policy when it comes to promoting accessible and affordable healthy eating options.

“Since dietary choices can be influenced by socioeconomic status, it’s crucial to ensure that this does not hinder individuals from adopting a healthy balanced dietary profile,” the lead study author states. “Implementing affordable nutritious food policies is essential for governments to empower the general public to make informed and healthier dietary choices, thereby promoting overall public health.”

“Our findings underscore the associations between dietary patterns and brain health, urging for concerted efforts in promoting nutritional awareness and fostering healthier eating habits across diverse populations,” adds study co-author Wei Cheng of Fudan University.

“This exciting research further demonstrates that a poor diet detrimentally impacts not only our physical health but also our mental and brain health. This study supports the need for urgent government action to optimize health in our children, protecting future generations. We also hope this provides further evidence to motivate us all to make better lifestyle choices, to improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic disease,” concludes Dr. Richard Pemberton, a certified lifestyle physician at Hexagon Health, who did not take part in the study.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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