From a young age, we’re taught that eating well helps us look and feel our physical best. What we’re not always told is that good nutrition significantly affects our mental health, too. A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span.
Conversely, an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making, and can slow down reaction time. In fact, a poor diet can actually aggravate, and may even lead to, stress and depression.
Maxine Barish-Wreden, M.D., a complementary and integrative medicine physician with Sutter Medical Foundation, says one of the biggest health impairments is society’s reliance on processed foods. These foods are high in flours and sugar and train the brain to crave more of them, rather than nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
“A lot of the processed foods we eat are highly addictive and stimulate the dopamine centers in our brain, which are associated with pleasure and reward,” Dr. Barish-Wreden says. “In order to stop craving unhealthy foods, you’ve got to stop eating those foods. You actually start to change the physiology in the brain when you pull added sugars and refined carbohydrates from your diet.”