Mental health conditions affect 1 in 4 people worldwide and are one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability, however many people are surprised to learn that the way we eat can significantly impact our mental health (1). New research is showing that if you do have a mental health condition you may even be able to directly improve it through nutrition.
Studies have consistently shown that having a high intake of whole foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and a low intake of processed foods is linked with better mental health. Similarly, having less nutritious eating habits is linked with having poor mental health and a lower quality of life.
Therefore it’s not surprising that introducing healthier eating patterns can reduce depression. An Australian study published in 2017, called the SMILES trial, treated people with depression using a Mediterranean style diet. There was a significant improvement in the depression levels of the people following the Mediterranean diet compared to the placebo group after the 12 week study (2).
A summary of some of the main elements of the diet from this study included:
- Select fruits, vegetables and nuts as a snack (including 3 portions of fruit and 30g of unsalted nuts every day)
- Include vegetables with every meal (including leafy greens and tomatoes daily)
- Select whole grain breads and cereals (servings based on your activity levels)
- Eat legumes (eg. beans, lentils, chickpeas) 3 to 4 times per week
- Eat oily fish at least 2 times per week
- Eat lean red meat 3 to 4 times per week (limiting serve sizes to 65g – 100g)
- Include 2 to 3 serves of dairy every day (select reduced fat products and natural yoghurt)
- Use olive oil as the main added fat (include 60mL / 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil daily)
- Save sweets for special occasions only
- Water is the best drink (2)
As a bonus, all of these nutritional habits are also helpful for our overall health, vitality, energy levels, concentration and well-being. They are also in line with prevention of other diseases such as diabetes, dementia, many types of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
If you think you would benefit from support with your mental health, please speak to your doctor and they will be able to help you with the best direction to take. For support with making changes to your eating habits and for further details on nutrition for mental health, make an appointment to see your dietitian.