It is widely known that eating well has many health benefits. However, due to a busy lifestyle, a diet high in processed foods, saturated fats and sugar are preferred for convenience. These foods lack the necessary nutrients for good health and can lead to disorders such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Furthermore, a number of studies have found that poor diet can also affect a person’s mental health. In 2017, a 12-week study on adults with moderate to severe depression was performed. This randomised controlled trial enrolled 67 adults who were split into two groups. The participants either received dietary support or social support. The mental states of the participants were assessed before and after the intervention. To be eligible to participate, the adults selected have to be consuming a poor diet prior to the intervention. Poor diet was defined as a low intake of dietary fibre, lean proteins and fruit and vegetables, with a high intake of sugar, processed meats and salty snacks.
The dietary support group received advice and support sessions to assist with improving the quality of their diet. This includes a hamper containing the recommended food types and recipes. The social support (control) group had an equal number of support sessions. However, instead of recipes and hampers, the participants would interact with trained personnel in positive, but neutral, conversation or activities. The participants who had a mean age of 40 years old, were found to show statistically significant improvements in mood after diet intervention, compared to the control group.(1)
A 2019 study found diet interventions can also reduce depression in young adults. A randomised controlled trial was performed on undergraduate students consuming a poor diet while presenting depressive symptoms. This 3-week study separated the participants into a diet change group or a habitual change control group. The control group carried on eating as they normally would while the diet change group were instructed on changes to their diet. Some additional guidance was given to this group to ensure adherence over the 3 weeks. Symptoms were measured in the 76 young adults taking part, and there were significant improvements in mood for the diet change group compared to the habitual change control group.(2)
The results of both these studies suggested that depressed individuals were not only capable of following and adhering to a diet plan, but these changes in diet could also lead to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. The recommended diet in both studies was based on a Mediterranean-style diet with increased servings of fruit, vegetables, unsweetened-dairy, nuts and seeds, proteins including lean meats, wholegrain cereals and fish. Also recommended was olive oil and spices such as turmeric and cinnamon for brain function. Participants were instructed to reduce processed and fried foods and sugary snacks and drinks. Despite the relatively small sample sizes in these two studies, there is a growing evidence that diet, as well as other lifestyle factors can impact on mood disorders. Hence, dietary improvements could be utilised by health professionals as an additional tool to treat this common but distressing illness.
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References and further reading:
- Jacka, F.N. et al (2017) A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med. 2017; 15: 23. PMID: 28137247
- Francis, H.M. et al (2019) A brief diet intervention can reduce symptoms of depression in young adults – A randomised controlled trial. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0222768. PMID: 31596866