Whilst the benefits of a healthy diet on our physical body is clear, the benefits of a healthy diet on our mind are less well known.
With mental health becoming increasingly prominent in the public eye, research between diet and mental health has skyrocketed in recent years. We all know the pressures of today’s lifestyle, with increased financial pressure, social media outlets and political uncertainty. Yet, whilst a good diet will not fix these external issues, it will sure make dealing with them far easier. Although much of the research is still ongoing, recent findings are beginning to suggest that diet is one of the key factors in mental health.
Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 25% of the world population will develop some type of mental disorder during their lifetime. Depression is high among the ranks, occurring worldwide and in all age groups. In fact, depression is now so widespread that it is the second leading cause of people living with disability. No one wants to feel sad, lonely or unengaged with life and a good diet may just be helpful in finding the answer.
Accumulating evidence is now suggesting that healthy diets play a major part in avoiding mental health disorders such as depression. Many of these studies, such as the one conducted by Aline Richard at the University of Zurichand and printed in BMC Medicine, is indicating that certain diet patterns can be associated with reduced incidences of depression.
Is 5 a day our saviour?
Without doubt the most well-known dietary recommendation of recent years is the 5 a day. Initially posted by the World Health Organisation to consume “a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers)” to help prevent diseases such as diabetes, cancer and obesity. Followed by a barrage of campaigns, the 5 a day recommendation is now truly entrenched in western society. But could there be more to it than meets the eye?
Research is beginning to suggest that the 5-a-day recommendation may be associated with reduced psychological distress. Studies, like the one conducted in Switzerland, have demonstrated that people who eat less than the recommended 5 a day suffer a higher percentage of psychological distress. Strangely though, the affect is most noticeable when it comes to vegetables instead of fruit.
Fruit and vegetables contain a complex mix of nutrients that are widely attributed to their beneficial health effects. Key amongst these is the production of the chemical serotonin. The neurotransmitter serotonin helps balance our mood, happiness and even anxiety. Low levels of the chemical are often associated with depression and most anti-depressant drugs actually aim to increase serotonin in the brain. However, here’s the good bit, we can naturally increase serotonin to the brain by eating the right foods and having the right diet.
Serotonin is produced via tryptophan which is an amino acid and can therefore be found in protein-rich foods such as fish, seeds and most nuts. However, fruits such as bananas, pineapples and plums also contain high levels of serotonin, as do vegetables such as spinach and tomatoes.
Therefore, by sticking to the 5 a day rule and eating protein-rich foods, we could significantly influence our chances of developing depression and other mental illnesses. It should be noted here that most people in the industry believe that it should be more like 10 a day than 5! Whilst this is easier said than done, it can help reduce or avoid taking medication and being able to do the things we actually enjoy in life.
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