Diet and health: how diet affects mental health

Although at first it may not appear to be linked, eating healthily is essential for maintaining your mental health. We tell you more about this!

KNOW YOURSELF

22 December 2020

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From early 2010, there has been a proliferation of studies linking emotional wellbeing to diet. There is evidence that maintaining a balanced diet is associated with feelings of wellbeing. Some studies have even indicated that a diet based on fruit and vegetables improves your mood.

How can you maintain a good diet?

It has been shown that the Mediterranean diet (rich in vegetables, legumes, dried fruit, cereals and extra virgin olive oil), complemented by fish oil (rich in omega 3), improves mood (anxiety and depression) in patients that kept to the guidelines for six months or longer.

Good nutritional intake from an early age has also been studied by scientists, and they have found that a deficient diet (high levels of saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and processed foods) is related to a deterioration in the physical and mental health of children and adolescents.

There are also other inequalities that may contribute to developing mental health problems as well as how these factors may interact with and may affect mental health. For example, it has been discovered that factors, such as deficient physical health, living in poverty or in unfavourable surroundings are associated with a decline in mental health.  It has also been shown that these factors have a complex relationship with poor nutrition.  



The actual mental health problems that a person may suffer from can also lead to a poor diet and, therefore, poor physical health. Therefore, paying attention to your diet helps to maintain a balance between the aspects of physical and mental health.

This implies that poor nutrition may cause physical health problems such as obesity. Nonetheless, demographic variables that may affect the direction and strength of the association with mental health (seriousness of obesity, socio-economic level, gender and age) are very important.  

The relationship between obesity and mental health problems is complex. There are bi-directional associations between depression and obesity. This means that obese people have a greater risk of suffering from depression, while people who suffer from depression also have a greater risk of becoming obese.

Rules for maintaining a good diet

1. Apportion at least 5 pieces of fruit over the day.
2. Include a third of fresh or cooked vegetables in your meals.
3. Eat less meat and more fish: 2 portions of oily and 1 of white fish.
4. Reduce your consumption of fats and processed foods.
5. Eliminate sugar and sweetened products.
6. Use only a small amount of salt.
7. Take up physical activities.
8. Stay well hydrated.
9. Consult a nutritionist about other dietary strategies: don’t start dieting without consulting about what is most appropriate for you.
10. Go shopping with a defined meal plan, having written down what you need and, most importantly, when you have eaten.