Have you ever noticed how food affects your mood? When we're stressed or depressed we tend to reach for sugary, fatty comfort foods, chocolate, ice-cream or perhaps pizza. But could that be actually making us feel worse? Could eating better make us feel better?
In 17th-century England, a “hot and moist diet” was thought to provide a cure for melancholy. Today, the idea that food can have an impact on emotional health hasn’t gone away; it just looks a little different. The internet is littered with food-based mental-health fixes, ranging from books with titles like The Happiness Diet to recipes for things like “better than Prozac” turmeric lemonade. read more at sbs.com.au
But is there any science behind this? We know that some foods are healthier for our brains, so perhaps I shouldn't have been suprised to discover that there's a new field of research called nutritional psychiatry. Professor of nutrition at Kansas State University, Mark Haub describes it as “a field where both mental health and nutrition professionals can cross over and better understand how food and nutrients can affect mental health.”
Half of the group were made to eat a healthy diet focusing on extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish and grass-fed beef. The other half continued eating their usual diets and as a were required to attend social support sessions.
The group's symptoms were graded on a standard depression scale. After three months of healthier eating, those in the healthy eating group saw their scores improve on average by about 11 points. Impressively, a third of the healthy eating group now had scores so low that they were no longer classed as depressed. The other group who had social support but no special dietary instructions improved by only about 4 points and only 8% were no longer depressed.
This may be one small piece or research, but over the past 10 years, many more studies have had similar findings. Researchers analyzed the results of 21 similar projects from a variety of institutions and came up with the following conclusion:
A dietary pattern characterized by a high intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression. The results of this meta-analysis suggest that healthy pattern may decrease the risk of depression, whereas western-style may increase the risk of depression. Via sciencedirect.com
So not only can a typical Mediterranean diet loaded with fresh vegetables, fruit and lean meats, help you lose weight, it can also improve your mood.
For anyone experiencing depression, talking to a mental health professional should be the first port of call. However, a change in diet is a complementary approach which could certainly help.
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