We are what we eat, but we do not associate our food with our mental health, which could be a mistake. Food does affect our physical performance, so why wouldn‘t it damage or benefit our mental health? Scientists from the University of Tasmania conducted a study to see how poor dietary habits can be linked to depression and what food helps to improve mental health.
This research included 1,600 participants of Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort Study, who were surveyed at the age of 14 years, and another 1,000 who were surveyed at 17. Participants were asked about their dietary habits in the past year. By this information people’s diets were categorized mainly as ‘Healthy’ or ‘Western’. While healthy diet includes a lot of vegetables, fruits, fibre and fish, ‘Western’ diet is filled with red meat, confectionary, takeaways and other unhealthy food options. This data was cross-referenced with information about participants’ mental health, clinical data on body mass index and inflammation three years later.
Researchers found that diet can be linked to mental health. Eating unhealthy foods, here referred to as Western diet, are associated with a higher risk of mental health problems and inflammation in adolescents. Numerous studies before have shown that fat/obese people are in higher risk of depression and this research confirms this. Interestingly, Western diet pattern can be easily linked to a higher risk of depression as well because of increased BMI and underlying inflammation. Meanwhile a healthy diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains helps protecting against depression and inflammation.
People who eat poorly face a variety of health issues as well as, usually, social isolation. However, the relation between dietary patterns and mental health is still very complex. Professor Wendy Oddy, leader of the research team, said: “Scientific work on the relationship between mental health problems and inflammation is still in its infancy, but this study makes an important contribution to mapping out how what you eat impacts on these relationships”.
Now scientists are moving on to studying specific food components and nutrients to see how they affect mental health. However, as much as we know is enough already to make a change today – eat healthier and be happier.