Diet linked to mental health

Along with its many recognised health benefits, the Mediterranean diet is being promoted as a way to tackle mental health problems, especially for those with major depressive disorders.

Last year, Lifeline Australia released the results of a survey that revealed more than 80 per cent of Australians believe our society is becoming a lonelier place. Of the 3100 respondents, 60 per cent said they ‘often felt lonely’.

Compounding the issue of loneliness is that of isolation – a contributing factor that can lead to depression – the rates of which have increased as our society has become more technologically connected.

Following new research conducted at Deakin University, the answer to tackling many mental health problems may be as simple as changing your diet.

“We already know that diet has a very potent impact on the biological aspects of our body that affect depression risks,” said Professor Felice Jacka, director of Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre.

The Mediterranean diet has already been credited with improving heart health, reducing the risk of diabetes and increasing overall life expectancy.

The study, which was published in the international journal BMC Medicine, involved 56 randomly-selected participants. Thirty-one people were asked to adopt the Mediterranean diet, along with reducing their intake of sweets, processed cereals, fried food and sugary drinks. A further 25 participants received only social support.

After 12 weeks, the researchers found that one third of the participants on the new diet were reporting a significant improvement in their mood and symptoms, while just eight per cent of those receiving social support recognised any improvement.

The Mediterranean diet is typically made up of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and nuts. It involves eating fish and poultry twice a week, limiting red meat to a few times a month, replacing butter with olive oil and using herbs and spices instead of salt and pepper.

One of the participants, Sarah Keeble, described the lifestyle change as profoundly helpful.

“I got so motivated because I felt so much better, better than I had in so long. I felt clearer in my mind. I felt balanced. I felt happier. I actually had a lot more energy. I felt I could really kick this in the butt,” she said.

The study proposed that while the Mediterranean diet is not a cure for depression or a replacement for traditional mental health therapies, it is a powerful tool that mental health sufferers can use to improve their lives. It went on to suggest that the addition of dieticians to mental health care teams, along with making dietitian support available to those with depression, would be of great benefit.


What are your thoughts? Would adopting a Mediterranean diet to tackle mental health issues appeal to you? Do the results of this study surprise you or is diet an obvious factor contributing to mental health?

Related articles:
Is your diet deadly?
Is midlife weight gain inevitable?
The physical effects of loneliness

YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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