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#Health : What is the best nutrition for your brain health ?

Meat, fruits, and vegetables – studies have suggested that these foods have the potential to boost mood and mental health. But which are best? Well, according to new research, the effects of specific foods on psychological well-being are highly dependent on a person's age.

  

Researchers from the State University of New York at Binghamton have found that certain foods affect the mood and mental wellness of young adults differently to that of older adults, and vice versa.

Study co-author Lina Begdache, who is an assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton, and colleagues believe that their findings may help individuals to make food choices that benefit their mental well-being.

The team recently reported their results in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

In recent years, researchers have established that what we eat can have a significant impact on our mental health. A study reported by Medical News Today earlier this year, for example, suggested that increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables can improve psychological well-being in just 2 weeks, while other research has suggested a link between red meat intake and reduced risk of depression.

It is believed that such benefits are down to how certain foods modify our brain chemistry, which can affect psychological health. But Begdache and colleagues make an important point: the structure of our brains is not the same throughout our entire lifespan.

As the researchers note, "Brain maturation may not complete until the age of 30, which may explain the differential emotional control, mindset, and resilience between young adults and matured adults."

"As a result, dietary factors may influence mental health differently in these two populations."

To find out whether or not this is the case, the scientists used social media platforms to send out an online Food-Mood Questionnaire (FMQ). Respondents were divided into two groups: young adults (aged 18–29) and mature adults (aged 30 or older).

Red meat, poultry beneficial for young adults


Using the FMQ data, Begdache and colleagues looked at the link between diet, exercise, and mental distress in both groups.

They found that a higher intake of poultry and red meat — which both increase levels of mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine — was associated with better mood and mental health in young adults, but not mature adults.

"Regular exercise leads to build-up of these and other neurotransmitters as well," notes Begdache. "In other words, young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress."

The team says that these findings indicate that the brains of young adults may be more sensitive to an increase in brain chemicals that boost mood.

Interestingly, they also found that the psychological health of mature adults was improved with a greater intake of fruits and vegetables. The team notes that these foods are rich in antioxidants, which can combat the damage caused by free radicals.

"With aging," adds Begdache, "there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants), so our need for antioxidants increases. Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress."
Age 'may necessitate dietary adjustments'

The scientists also found that abstaining from foods and beverages that activate the "fight-or-flight" response, or the stress response — such as coffee and carbohydrate-rich foods — was associated with better mental health in mature adults.

"[...] our ability to regulate stress decreases [with aging], so if we consume food that activates the stress response, we are more likely to experience mental distress," says Begdache.

Overall, the researchers believe that their results indicate that a person's age influences the effects of diet on psychological well-being.

The authors conclude:

"Level of brain maturation and age-related changes in brain morphology and functions may necessitate dietary adjustments for improving mental well-being."

The team now plans to investigate whether or not the dietary effects of food on mental health vary by sex, given that men and women have differences in brain structure.

Fat, carbs, fruit, veg: How much should we eat for health?
      

Two complementary papers based on a large cohort study show that fats - both saturated and unsaturated - may not be as harmful as previously thought. Carbohydrates can have a more damaging impact, but should still be consumed in moderation, and a stable intake of fruits and vegetables is a must.


A large cohort study, the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, at the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University in Canada, has paved the way for a better understanding of what makes healthful, balanced diets.

The study collected data from 135,335 people with ages between 35 and 70, from 18 different countries across five continents, covering regions from the Middle East, South America, Africa, China, North America, Europe, and South Asia.

Participants were asked to provide details about their socioeconomic situation, lifestyle, medical history, weight, and blood pressure, among others. They were followed up for a median period of 7.4 years, and relevant information regarding cardiovascular disease and death risk was collected periodically.

PURE data was recently used in two complementary studies, one looking at the effects of macronutrients, especially fats and carbohydrates, on people's health and life expectancy, and the other exploring the global importance of fruit and vegetable intake.

The first study, whose principal author is Dr. Mahshid Dehghan, from McMaster University, shows that diets that include a moderate fat intake and which avoid a high intake of carbohydrates are linked with a reduced risk of mortality. An article detailing the findings was published yesterday in The Lancet.
Moderate fat intake is beneficial

For the purpose of this study, data on the participants' daily dietary choices and habits were analyzed alongside other relevant information, to allow the researchers to calculate how much energy was provided by fat, carbohydrate, and protein intake in each individual's case.

A surprising finding, which appears to contradict existing beliefs about healthy dietary practices, was that a higher total fat intake - providing 35.3 percent of energy - was linked with a 23 percent lower risk of mortality than a lower fat consumption.

At the same time, a high intake of carbohydrates - providing 77 percent of energy - was found to correlate with a 28 percent higher mortality risk.

Total fat intake was not significantly associated with a risk of mortality linked with cardiovascular disease, and carbohydrate intake was not associated with cardiovascular disease at all.

These findings also have country-specific and cultural-specific implications, and may be related to the income level of each country, the researchers say.

"A decrease in fat intake automatically led to an increase in carbohydrate consumption and our findings may explain why certain populations such as South Asians, who do not consume much fat but consume a lot of carbohydrates, have higher mortality rates," suggests Dr. Dehghan.

Three to four a day

A second paper also published yesterday in The Lancet, whose main author is Victoria Miller, a doctoral student from McMaster University, complements the other article's findings by looking at the importance of fruits, vegetables, and legumes to the diet.

Based on relevant PURE data, Miller and her colleagues calculated how many servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes the participants consumed on a regular basis.

The researchers defined "one serving" as 125 grams of fruits or vegetables, or 150 grams of cooked legumes, in accordance with recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Potatoes, other tuberous crops, legumes, and fruit and veg juices were not included as vegetables. The study took "legumes" to refer to beans, black beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas.

The researchers found that three to four servings of fruits and vegetables per day correlated with the best health outcomes.


"Our study found the lowest risk of death in those who consumed three to four servings or the equivalent to 375 to 500 grams of fruits, vegetables and legumes per day, with little additional benefit for intake beyond that range. Additionally, fruit intake was more strongly associated with benefit than vegetables."


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