The relationship between diet and depression; how the mind is closely related to our physical health. A look into research which tries to understand the connection between what we eat and our mental health and how this information could potentially be used to prevent mental illness.
Research shows that healthy diets, which include a variety of whole foods, a diverse range of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats can reduce the risk of depression. This has been shown across a range of age groups, cultures and countries. Looking into this research and understanding why could be a huge breakthrough in the prevention of mental health disorders.
Often depression is caused by traumatic experience, often in childhood, or genetics, and these things are difficult to overcome or change, however there are factors in our lives, such as diet, which can be modified in order to prevent the onset of depression. Even in the womb the diet of the mother can directly affect the cognitive and mental health of the child during their first few years of life. Our brains can be directly affected by our metabolism, weight, immune system and the heath of the gut and microbiota. All of these are directly affected by our diet; eating a very healthy diet therefore provides the foundations for a healthy mind.
Felice Jacka from Deakin University,’s Food and Mood Centre, Australia – founder of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research – explains it like this:
“The more diverse your plant-food intake, the more diverse the bacteria that live in your gut, and that will make a healthy gut.
The gut microbiota ferments dietary fibre, which are the components of plant foods that are not easily broken down. These are the things you get in high-fibre foods such as vegetables and fruits, lentils, legumes, chickpeas, beans, and whole grains. All of these foods have dietary fibre, and dietary fibre is essential because it is food for the bacteria. When the fibre is broken down, the microbiota produces metabolites, also known as short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids affect gene activity, metabolism, and body weight; they also profoundly affect our immune system, which in turn affects our risk for depression.
All of these things are dependent on a supply of dietary fibre. In most Western countries, we do not consume anywhere near the amount of dietary fibre that we should.
Another aspect of diet is polyphenols. These are the things that you find in colourful fruits and vegetables, dark chocolate, green tea, and red wine. These polyphenols are very important in the gut, and they may also prevent weight gain.
There are also fats—the polyunsaturated fats you get from fish are beneficial for your gut. The saturated fats you get from processed foods and animal meats seem to promote the growth of less-healthy bacteria.
There are also fermented foods, in the form of yogurts or kefir. I make my own Kombucha and fermented vegetables; all of these are very valuable sources of both bacteria and metabolites, which the bacteria produce when fermenting foods.
All of these are essential, not only for the health of our body but also for our brain health.
And of course, at the other end of the spectrum, artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers, very common in junk food, appear to have a negative impact on the gut. New research also suggests that elevated blood sugar may induce leaky gut. This underscores the real importance to avoid foods high in refined carbohydrates, added fats, and sugars. Diets high in these types of foods are consistently linked to a higher risk of depression and reduced brain health”.
One study type that has been carried out on multiple occasions was through controlled trials. The subjects, all suffering from clinical depression, were split into two groups, one group were given social support – going out on group excursions among other socially orientated activities, the other group were given dietary support – being taught how to shop, cook healthily and shown the benefits of a Mediterranean style diet. After three months those in the dietary support group’s symptoms were substantially improved in comparison to the social group.
The research being carried out by Professor Jacka and others in the same field is designed to examine how diet and lifestyle interact with the risk of mental health problems, with the ultimate goal being to develop the prevention and treatment methods for mental disorders. The results so far clearly show that nutrition is the fuel for both our body and mind; the better the quality of fuel, the better the physical and mental health.
Interested in Nutrition? Become a Nutritional Therapist
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer 7 Holistic Therapy distance learning courses centred on Nutrition, all of which are accredited in 26 countries worldwide:
- Clinical Nutrition
- Advanced Nutrition
- Child & Adolescent Nutrition
- Ethical & Sustainable Eating
- Nutrition for Age 50 Plus
- Sport & Exercise Nutrition
- Vegetarian & Vegan Nutrition
If you’re looking for other holistic therapy courses – we have more than 60 to choose from! Take a look at our A-Z Course listing page. If you have any questions regarding these courses, please do contact us, we’d love to hear from you!