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Can A Healthy Diet Make You Smarter?

By: Eris

Despite some good gut instincts we have, it can be very trying to figure out what truly constitutes a "healthy" diet -- do you avoid fats? Cut out all processed foods? What about carbohydrates, how many of those are acceptable? What about animal protein?

Nutritionists follow different schools of thought on this, and a wealth of studies provide different data sets to analyze and consider when you're thinking about what you should be eating. But while we usually talk about healthy diets in the context of physical health, more and more evidence is emerging to suggest that a healthy diet can help improve mental health and long-term mental facility.

A diet high in saturated fat and sugars, for example, has been linked to a decline in short-term memory. Conversely, studies have shown that a diet high in Omega 3 fats (like fish and olive oil), leafy green vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and nuts can help maintain or even increase cognitive facility during the aging process.

Studies have gone even further than this, suggesting that fruit, vegetables, and nuts have strong neuroprotective properties that can help fight dementia and other cognitive dysfunction through aging, despite being widely under-consumed. A separate study recognized leafy green vegetables high in fibre, folate, potassium, and a mixture of vitamins as being particularly effective. Berries that are rich in antioxidants and carry antiinflammatory properties have also been linked to improved performance in memory related tasks.

Gut microbes, which can be found in a variety of fermented products including kefir and kombucha, also feature neuroprotective properties and aid in a variety of psychophysiological functions such as neurodevelopment, stress management, and healing neurocognitive impairment.

A good diet has also been linked to improved mental health and stability, with nutritional and vitamin deficiencies being linked to increased severity of mental illness.

The difficulty in sustaining a healthy diet is seen all around us -- social and economic factors have driven the price of processed foods down, while natural and healthy food products can be often out of reach for those who need them. Governmental food policy, especially with the increasing environmental toll of meat and processed food production, should attempt to reverse these trends through the incentivization of healthy, natural foods.