Written by Vicki Ma (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian)
Before you mindlessly scoff down your next pizza or block of chocolate, pause and think about how this might affect your mood. Studies conducted by Deakin University have identified that people consuming high processed food diets are more likely to develop mental disorders such as depression. Whilst eating junk food such as chips, cakes or ice-cream can help boost your mood short-term, it could have a long-term detrimental effect on your brain and immune system.
In Australia, almost 45% of people will experience a mental health problem at some stage in their lives. On average, one in six people will experience depression and one in four will have anxiety issues.
The good news is, by following a healthy balanced diet, it may help boost your mood, improve your mental health and reduce the risk of depression. Studies have shown by eating a Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole grains, legumes, lean protein, nuts, olive oil as well as fruits and vegetables can have a positive impact on your mood and cognitive function. It is plausible that the combination of omega-3 fatty acids together with other natural healthy fats and antioxidants from olive oil and nuts, as well as the vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables in the overall Mediterranean diet may be protective against depression and other mental health conditions.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Here are the basic steps on how to follow a Mediterranean diet:
- Aim to use 40 – 60ml of extra virgin olive oil per day (you can use this in cooking, salad dressings or even in baked goods)
- Eat plenty of different coloured vegetables (approximately 500g per week)
- Aim to have 2 – 3 serves of fruit per day
- Include whole grain breads with meals (around 3 – 4 slices per day)
- Eat 200g natural or Greek yoghurt every day and 30 – 40g feta cheese
- Include 30g nuts per day
- Aim to have at least 2 serves of fish (150 – 200g) per week and include oily fish such as salmon, sardine, tuna and mackerel.
- Eat smaller portions of meat such as beef, lamb, pork or chicken (no more than 1-2 serves/week)
- Include at least two serves of legumes per week (approximate 250g per serve)
- Drink wine in moderation (1 – 2 glasses per day), only with meals and never to get drunk. Aim to have a few alcohol-free days per week.
- Limit sweets or sweet drinks for only special occasions.
The Gut-Brain Connection
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that the little bacteria species growing in our stomach can have a major impact on our mood and emotional well-being. Improving our gut health can play a crucial role in fighting depression. Studies have shown altering the gut microbiome with probiotics and prebiotics can have a positive impact on our emotional processing as well as help reduce stress and anxiety.
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
- Probiotics – are the live cultures of good bacteria in our stomach. These help change our intestinal bacteria to balance gut health.
- Prebiotics – are the non-digestible dietary fibres found naturally in food. These help to promote the growth of good bacteria in our large intestine.
What foods are high in probiotics and prebiotics?
The table below provides a list of foods that contain natural sources of probiotics and prebiotics. These foods can be introduced as part of a healthy well-balanced diet.
|Lentils / chickpeas
The take-home message
Eating well can make you feel better physically and mentally. Whilst more research needs to be done in order to confirm these benefits, scientists believe making simple dietary changes can be an important component in improving mental health and fighting depression. This really proves that healthy foods can be a powerful antidepressant.
Sanchez-Villegas A, Henriquez P, Bes-Rastrollo M, Doreste J. (2006). Mediterranean diet and depression. Public Health Nutrition: 9 (8A): 1104 – 1109.
Sanchez-Villegas A, Martinez-Gonzalez M, Estruch R, Salas-Slavado J. et al. (2013). Mediterranean dietary pattern and depression; the PREDMIMED randomized trial. BMC Medicine: 11(208).
Healthy Food Guide. Depression: How food can make a difference. [cited 2017 December 13]. Available http://www.healthyfoodguide.com.au/articles/2011/march/depression-how-food-can-make-difference
Deakin University. How to eat your way to happiness. [cited 2017 December 13]. Available http://this.deakin.edu.au/lifestyle/how-to-eat-your-way-to-happiness
Huffington Post. Yes, what you eat affects your mental health. [cited 2017 December 13]. Available http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/10/30/yes-what-you-eat-affects-your-mental-health_a_21593454/