If you feel moody when nothing is wrong, you might blame it on your sleep. But, you might want to look at your diet. A new study has found that brains get “hangry” for nutrients if you eat too many ultra-processed foods. It impairs emotional regulation and cognitive function. While we might get protein, fat and carbs from food, diets high in ultra-processed foods often lack vitamins and minerals. In 2018, 57 percent of calories consumed by adults in the U.S. came from ultra-processed foods.
Irritability, explosive rage and unstable moods have grown more common in recent years — you just have to turn on cable news or read the comment section of any website to know people are getting angrier. Researchers in the field of mental health and nutrition saw a correlation between people’s diet and mental health. Studies from countries with healthier diets like Spain, Japan and Australia have shown that people who eat better are less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than people who eat more ultra-processed food. A study in Japan showed that people who ate a healthy diet were half as likely to commit suicide than people who ate less healthy food.
Studies have also found that switching diets can change mental health. When people who were suffering from depression changed from an ultra-processed diet to the Mediterranean diet, they saw significant improvements in their moods. In a related study, a third of the people who made the switch and got regular mental health treatment were in remission in 12 weeks. The remission rate in people who got treatment but didn’t change their diet was fewer than one in 10.
This research shows correlation, not causation. People struggling with depression, mood and mental health issues may be reaching for ultra-processed foods, and it’s skewing the results. When you’re tired or depressed, you might not feel like cooking. But, as the research came from so many countries, it seems significant and worth exploring more. If you have been struggling with your mood, switching to a diet with more whole foods that include more vitamins and minerals might be a good way of bolstering your mental health.
The researchers believe that “hidden brain hunger” is the problem. You can get the same macronutrients — calories, protein, fat and carbs. But when it comes to vitamins and minerals, whole foods are best. You might be able to replace them with a multivitamin supplement. But, the best and most thorough way to do it is through a diet of whole foods.