Saturday, April 13

How Food Affects Our Brain: What We Need to Know

Felice Jacka is the co-director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, Australia, and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, leading researcher of nutritional psychiatry, Felice Jacka, shed light on the significant role that diet plays in mental and brain health. As the co-director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, Australia, and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, Jacka discussed her findings on the links between ultra-processed foods and brain health.

Jacka emphasised that the gut microbiome, which is influenced by diet, plays a crucial role in various aspects of health, including metabolism, blood glucose levels, and the production of serotonin in the brain. These factors are intimately connected to mental and brain health.

When it comes to ultra-processed foods, Jacka highlighted that research has shown a negative impact on cognitive functions, particularly in the hippocampus – a region of the brain associated with mental health, learning, and memory. Additionally, individuals with a less healthy diet tend to have a smaller hippocampus.

Jacka’s recent study compared the effects of an ultra-processed food diet with a wholefood version of a low-calorie diet on the gut microbiome. Preliminary results suggest that the brain and gut microbiome may not process ultra-processed foods in the same way as wholefoods.

The interview also touched on the broader implications of industrialized food systems. Jacka emphasized that these systems are a leading cause of global illness, early mortality, and biodiversity loss. The environmental impact alone is estimated at around $7 trillion annually.

Regarding potential solutions, Jacka stressed that government policies play a pivotal role. She highlighted the prevalence of ultra-processed foods in everyday environments, making it challenging for individuals to make healthy choices.

Jacka’s research has also explored the connection between ultra-processed foods and neurodevelopmental disorders. While not conclusive, observations indicate a link between maternal diet quality and ADHD symptoms and diagnosis in children.

Finally, Jacka addressed criticisms of the term “ultra-processed food,” acknowledging the complexity of categorizing such a diverse range of dietary exposures. She cautioned against industry efforts to sow confusion, drawing parallels to historical tactics employed by the tobacco industry.

In conclusion, Felice Jacka’s research underscores the profound impact of diet on mental and brain health. Her findings provide valuable insights into the potential dangers of ultra-processed foods and advocate for a more nuanced understanding of dietary choices in promoting overall well-being.

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