Monday, June 17, 2024

Fussy eaters take note: picky palates linked to poor mental health

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A recent study suggests that older folks who are unfussy about what they eat have better cognitive function than their picky peers.

According to Nature Mental Health, a UK Biobank study analyzed the food likes and dislikes of nearly 182,000 older Brits, but rather than focusing on the effects of a specific diet, the team explored the link between the preferences of participants and their mental well-being.

After analyzing the data, a trend emerged: People with a broad palate and omnivorous appetites fared better in cognitive testing than those with limited preferences or strict exclusions. These findings indicate that a limited diet — vegan, vegetarian, high-protein, etc. — may not be our best bet for brain health.

The study’s results “demonstrate that specific food preferences have significant associations with mental health, cognitive functions, blood and metabolic biomarkers and brain imaging,” Rebecca MacPherson, an associate professor at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, wrote in an email to the Washington Post.

A diet that incorporates rather than prioritizes or omits certain foods has shown to be beneficial to the brain. nblxer – stock.adobe.com

In one of the largest and longest health studies ever conducted, participants were asked to complete a food ranking questionnaire that rated their preferences for 140 foods and beverages using a scale from 1 to 9, with 1 representing “extremely dislike” and 9 “extremely like.”

The questionnaire included 10 categories: alcohol, non-alcoholic beverages, dairy, flavorings, fruits, fish, meat, snacks, starches, and vegetables. Researchers found that 57% of participants showed a balanced preference across all categories. Of the remaining population, 18% preferred starch-free or reduced starch foods, 19% opted for a protein-heavy, fiber-light diet and the remaining 5% favored a vegetarian diet.

Study participants were asked to rank their food preferences on a scale from 1 to 9. bit24 – stock.adobe.com

Contrary to conventional wisdom and according to researcher Wei Cheng, those who fell into the vegetarian category, “exhibited a heightened susceptibility” to symptoms of anxiety, depression and other forms of mental distress. In addition, respondents who reported a preference for high protein and low fiber were likelier to report symptoms of anxiety and “diminished well-being.”

Researchers believe that a more balanced, less restrictive diet may be the key to maintaining cognition as we age. These experts describe a “balanced” diet as one that includes vegetables, fruits, cereals, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs and fish.

Researchers believe a balanced diet, rather than a prohibitive one, is the key to maintaining brain function. A Denny Syahputra – stock.adobe.com

Yet, the picture of palates and the link between what we eat and cognitive function may not be as clear as the study suggests.

As the Washington Post notes, study participants tended to be healthier than the general population. In addition, the data only shows the association between preferences and mental health, not actual food consumption, meaning those who prefer certain food groups could have other characteristics that influence mental health.

The Biobank study does support other research that illustrates the relationship between what we eat and our overall brain function.

Voted as one of the healthiest diets, and specifically known for its association with longevity and a reduced risk of developing a number of lifestyle diseases, a Mediterranean diet is more of a style of eating rather than a prescriptive program. happy_lark – stock.adobe.com

While the “Western diet,” chock-full of sugar and saturated fats, has been linked to decreased cognitive function and depressive symptoms, making us fat, stupid and potentially impotent, the Japanese diet, which favors fish, rice and fermentation, has been found to stave off dementia. Similarly, the much-lauded and well-balanced Mediterranean diet has been shown to support brain function as we age.

And the benefits of living the Med life don’t stop there. The Post reports that the diet may help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder via the gut microbiome, while other studies show that those who stick to the diet may reduce their odds of premature death by 29%.

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