Food and mood

10/08/2018

We are well aware that the food we eat can have an effect on our physical wellbeing, however it is becoming clear that our diet can also impact our mental health. To learn more about this we spoke to Dr Sarah Dash, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Food and Mood Centre, Deakin University.

What is the connection between diet and mood?
Over the last 15 years there have been many studies from around the globe that have consistently demonstrated that consuming a healthy diet (plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, etc) is linked with a reduced risk of developing a mental disorder. Whereas consuming an unhealthy diet (highly processed, high sugar, convenience foods) is associated with an increased risk of developing a mental disorder.

What is considered a healthy/balanced diet?
There are many different versions of a balanced diet. But essentially, a balanced diet should include plenty of plants (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains), and moderate intakes of quality dairy, meat, fish, or alternatives. Variety is also important, so it’s great to include lots of different colours and types of food in your daily diet (and of course, the occasional bit of chocolate won’t hurt).

What sort of foods should people eat more of/less of?
In Australia, and in most Western countries, we eat far too many foods high in unhealthy fats and sugar, or foods that offer convenience over nutritional value. These are foods like take-out meals, commercial baked goods, meat pies, hot chips and lollies. These constitute a significant amount of the Australia diet, which is a problem because not only are these foods causing issues for our health, but they also don’t leave much room for fruits and vegetables.

How has our thinking around the connection between diet and mood changed?
When we first started researching diet and mental health, we were fairly focused on individual nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, Omega-3’s, etc. Since then, the field of research has moved away from this ‘single nutrient’ approach, in part because we don’t eat this way, and also because nutrients in food tend to interact in complex and synergistic ways. When we just look at one nutrient, we aren’t seeing the full picture! Nutritional Psychiatry is now more focused on the whole-of-diet approach. Additionally, the gut microbiome has been of great interest to researchers in the field, as we now understand that our gut and brain greatly influence each other (and of course, our gut is influenced by what we eat!).

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