Does Diet Really Help Mental Health?
I will open this blog post with an honest declaration. I really was not really interested in cooking or my diet. I used to eat white carbohydrates, not enough protein, confectionary products, and just low-quality, quick and convenient foods.
This was still mostly true when I became really unwell. I found food a real chore as my anxiety can make me feel nauseated which makes eating an unappealing endeavour. I had lost a lot of confidence to deal with daily life. So how does one go from being avoidant of food to loving it? Well, for me, I found it was down to the science.
I needed scientific evidence that diet really does help anxiety and depression, and I'm glad to say such evidence exists.
There have been a couple large studies that have really begun to look at how diet affects mood. One study, called the 'SMILES' trial, recruited people to either get support in improving their diet, or receive social support. In terms of the recommended diet. The diet improvements that were recommended included emphasising the importance of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, a small amount of dairy, lean red meat, nuts, poultry, eggs and olive oil. This is modelled on previous research that shows a Mediterranean diet can help prevent depression.
Scientists found that improvements in depression were seen to be much better in those who received help to improve their diet compared to those receiving social support.
But, there's more. A spin-off of studies looking at the Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular disease, turned their attention to the relationship between following a Mediterranean dietary pattern and depression. The PREDI-DEP trial has been devised to compare the recurrence of depression between those who have been coached to follow a Mediterranean diet, and supplied with extra virgin olive oil, compared to those who don't receive any dietary advice or oil. The results of this trial haven't yet been released.
It's important to note that whilst there is some solid evidence for how the Mediterranean diet can support our mental wellbeing, it isn't the only diet that might be able to help. It's currently one of the best studied diets so far, hence why it receives so much attention. There is research to show that specific foods and components within food can support our mental wellbeing and used to help alleviate anxiety and depression. I'll talk about this in upcoming blog posts!