Recent research conducted in the United Kingdom has shown that dietary choices can have a long term effect on your mental health. Researchers compared 3,486 civil servants in London based on surveys they completed about their eating habits and a follow-up survey on mood completed five years later. Participants were divided into two categories: the “whole food” group ate a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fish, while the “processed food” group ate a high percentage of sweetened desserts, fried foods, processed meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products. The research also took into account other habits that effect overall health such as exercise and smoking.
The link between what we eat and mental health: The participants in the “processed food” group were 58 percent more likely to develop depression, while those with a “whole foods” diet were 26 percent less likely to develop depression. Interestingly, the researchers were cautious to draw any specific conclusions based on these correlations.
Researchers proposed several explanations for their results. It was suggested that antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could have a protective effective against depression for those with a “whole foods” diet. It was also suggested that the polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish could have a protective effect from depression. Researchers also proposed that the combined effect of different nutrients from a variety of foods was important in preventing depression. Although the researchers recognized that a healthier diet can help create a healthier mood, the possibility that a diet heavy in “processed food” may actually harm mental health was not mentioned. I think there are many reasons why this should also be considered.
The average age of participants was 55; the title of the orignal research article “Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age” (published in the British Journal of Psychiatry); however, this does not mean this research is not applicable to those who are not yet “middle age.” The habits you create now, and the habits you are creating for your children, will create your dietary patterns for the rest of your life, and may have a major impact on mental health as well.