Recent evidence suggests that good nutrition is essential for our mental health and that a number of mental health conditions may be influenced by dietary factors.
One of the most obvious, yet under-recognised factors in the development of major trends in mental health is the role of nutrition. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. As well as its impact on short and long-term mental health, the evidence indicates that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Nearly two thirds of those who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit or fruit juice every day, compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems. This pattern is similar for fresh vegetables and salad. Those who report some level of mental health problem also eat fewer healthy foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, organic foods and meals made from scratch) and more unhealthy foods (chips and crisps, chocolate, ready meals and takeaways).
A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water.
While a healthy diet can help recovery, it should sit alongside other treatments recommended by your doctor.
What We Should Eat
- Fewer high sugar foods and more wholegrain cereals, nuts, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables.
- Sugary foods are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. This may cause an initial ‘high’ or surge of energy that soon wears off as the body increases its insulin production, leaving you feeling tired and low.
- Wholegrain cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables are more filling and, because the sugar in these foods is absorbed more slowly, don’t cause mood swings. These foods are more nutritious as they contain thiamin (B1), a vitamin that has been associated with control of mood, and folate and zinc (supplements of these nutrients have been shown to improve the mood of people with depression in a small number of studies).
Food production and manufacturing techniques, coupled with changing lifestyles and increasing access to processed foods, mean that our intake of fresh, nutritious, local produce is much lower, at the same time as our intake of fat, sugar, alcohol and additives is much higher. It has been estimated that the average person in the UK and other industrialised countries will eat more than 4 kilogrammes of additives every year.
Over the last 60 years there has been a 34% decline in UK vegetable consumption with currently only 13% of men and 15% of women now eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. People in the UK eat 59% less fish than they did 60 years ago – decreasing the consumption of essential omega-3 fatty acids.