Balanced diet leads to better mental health as well and higher amounts of grey matter in brain

We know that a healthy diet is good for the heart, the arteries and almost every other organ in the body. Is it good for the brain too?

As you’d expect, it is, in fact for “superior’ brain health. Our food choices affect cognitive function and mental wellbeing in a profound way.

Warwick University researchers looked at the dietary choices of a large sample of 181,990 people from the UK Biobank and compared them to a range of physical measurements, including cognitive function, blood metabolic biomarkers, brain imaging and genetics.

An online questionnaire collected the food preferences of each of the participants which the team then categorised into 10 groups (such as alcohol, fruits and meats).

The data revealed a balanced diet was associated with better mental health, superior cognitive functions and even higher amounts of grey matter in the brain – linked to intelligence – compared with those eating a less varied diet. If you’re thinking of making changes, do it slowly by reducing sugar and fat intake over time, and people may find themselves naturally gravitating towards healthier food choices.

Lead author, Professor Jianfeng Feng, of Warwick University, emphasised the importance of establishing healthy food preferences early in life.

He said: “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.”

Addressing the broader implications of the research, Prof Feng emphasised the role of public policy in 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,” he stated.

“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.”

Dr Richard Pemberton, certified lifestyle physician and GP, Hexagon Health, who wasn’t involved in the study, is enthusiastic. “This exciting research further demonstrates that eating a poor diet detrimentally impacts not only our physical health but also our mental and brain health,” he said. “This study supports the need for urgent government action to optimise 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.”