It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and you’re getting a bit antsy. Nothing’s going right and you’ve still got a few hours of work before you can head home. You may snip at a co-worker and they’ll notice that you’re getting a little “hangry,” the perfect storm where your mental state is dictated by low blood sugar.
We’ve all been there. It’s nothing a little snack and a walk around the office can’t fix. Just eat this candy bar and you’ll be fine.
That isn’t what I’m talking about.
Some people say, “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee! I need my caffeine.”
That, also, isn’t what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about a direct correlation between mental illness and diet. I wanted to explore research that may have real implications about mental health, namely the long term effects that nutrients have on mental illness.
Doing a cursory search for the relationship between mental health and diet gave me many theories of how certain foods can improve mental health. I also discovered many anecdotes and lists of foods that some say are contributing to positive mental health.
For instance, you can go to this site and they’ll run down a list of foods that are easy enough to find and enjoy.
Some say that a Mediterranean-style diet (consisting mainly of vegetables, fruits,
legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil) will help reduce depression.
Other studies show that a menu focused on fermented foods (like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, pickles or kombucha), show a 25-30% lower occurrence of depression when compared to a more traditional “western” diet, which relies on many processed foods and sugars.
So, which diet do we choose?
A tried and true answer that describes the relationship is not so easily found.
Research shows that there is definitely a correlation between nutrient intake and mental health. Take a look at this cool Ted Talk from Julia Rucklidge, a scientist who focuses on the relationship.
To summarize, Rucklidge conducted research that concluded that “a well-nourished body and brain is better able to withstand stress and recover from illness”, which also includes incidents of ADHD, PTSD, and bipolar behavior.
So, does that mean we should take a large amount of pills stuffed with micronutrients and vitamins? Will this bring about the end of mental illness?
However, if your brain is deprived of good-quality nutrition (vitamins and micronutrients addressed by Rucklidge in her talk), it will have a tougher time working as designed.
We can read over a dozen clinically designed research studies focused on finding that relationship and the results show that there are parallels to Rucklidge’s research.
Now, is there a direct relationship between a healthy mental state and a certain diet? From these studies, it certainly looks like there may be a relationship, but only if we look at it from a larger view. These studies are quick to state that any findings that directly tie mental health and a certain diet are preliminary and that more focused studies are required.
However, the groundwork is laid down and the direction that many studies findings are headed toward that positive direction.
So, is the answer to all our mental health issues just to eat our veggies. Is it that simple?
If your choices are to eat a certain diet that might help your mental health and another different diet that may actually create mental health problems, then my answer would go for the diet with fruits and veggies! What would it hurt to eat healthier?
On top of all the founded research that says a diet full of fruits and veggies and low in refined sugar and highly processed ingredients is directly linked to physical health, how far of a stretch is it to say that the benefits can also extend to mental health, as well?
Not too far, I would argue.
I’m not a dietician. Nor am I a psychiatrist. However, there is lots of research that lays down the foundation for a diet that most likely help with mental health, and it’s not even that far of a stretch.
If you need to speak with someone, you can phone or text to any of the numbers below:
- Suicide Prevention Hotline –> 1-800-273-8255
- Veterans Crisis Line –> 1-800-273-8255
- Teen Crisis Line –> 1-310-855-4673
- The Trevor Project (LGBTQ Crisis and Suicide Hotline) –> 1-866-488-7386
- Hopeline Text Service –> Text “MN” or “HopeLine” to 741741