New Research Links Diet Quality to Mental Health

What You Eat Can Impact Your Mental State

A recent article revealed that researchers are making encouraging strides toward identifying a clear relationship between diet and mental health. The piece discusses the case of a woman who had been on anti-depressants for years prior to trying an experiment in which she changed her diet in an effort to curb her depression. The experiment worked and the woman lost both her weight and her depressive disorder.

Although the investigation into the relationship between diet quality and mental health is fairly new, it could lead to promising discoveries regarding the development of mental illness that so often leads to addiction. Experts are calling the link between diet and mental health “unusually consistent.”

While we have long understood that what we eat has an immense impact on our physical health, we are still learning to what extent it effects our mental health.

“There seems to be a clear link, but it’s an association  it doesn’t really tell you cause and effect,” said Rif El-Mallakh, a professor of psychology at the Louisville School of Medicine, in the article.

More Research to be Done

The article points to several informative studies, perhaps the most telling of which is a 2011 Norwegian study in which test subjects who ate a balanced diet of fish, meat and vegetables had much lower rates of mental illness than those who routinely ate processed or fast foods. Another study included one in 2013 that linked a pregnant mother’s diet to her children’s mental health and behavioral issues at age 5.

An exact link and reason are still unclear, but what has been determined is that traditional diets (ones that don’t include processed foods) promote better mental health. Research has shown that this goes across cultures and includes whole, unprocessed and nutrient-dense foods. Some examples of these types of food are fish, root vegetables, dairy products, whole-wheat bread, rice, fresh fruits, game or any other natural types of food.[1]

Research into the impact of food on mental health is ongoing and still in a relative pioneering stage. However, the Mental Health Foundation, located in the United Kingdom, found that food plays an important role in preventing and managing psychological health issues, such as depression, schizophrenia, ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease. It also found that of the people who do not report any daily mental health issues, approximately two thirds eat fresh fruit daily. Of those who report daily struggles with mental health, less than half consume fruit daily.[2]

A Supplementary Mental Health Treatment Strategy

Changing a person’s diet alone is not an adequate level of treatment for someone who is dealing with a diagnosed psychological disorder, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder and others. A person’s mental health can be impacted by dozens of different factors; targeting only the food may leave some of those factors unaddressed. However, a change in diet has proven to be effective when integrated with other techniques and in reducing severity of symptoms.[3]

One of the most important things a person can do is be sure to eat at least three times per day. Missing meals, especially breakfast, can lead to a drop in blood sugar, which may negatively impact a person’s mood and cause irritability and fatigue.[4]

Here Are Some Other Diet Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Avoid foods that are high in sugar – like cakes, sodas and certain puddings. They offer very little nutritional value compared with a high level of calories, potentially triggering mood swings due to the high sugar content.
  • Try to include protein in every meal. Protein is essential to physical health – helping with organs, muscles, nails and hair – but it may also help combat depression. Protein rich foods create an amino acid called tryptophan, which promotes production of Food plays an important role in preventing and managing psychological health issues, such as depression, schizophrenia, ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease.serotonin, which can play a role in managing mood, sleep, anxiety and depression.[5]
  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. There have been several studies that have investigated the link between lifestyle and mental health. Almost universally, those with higher levels of mental wellbeing ate more fruits and vegetables than those with low mental health.[6]
  • Add healthy variety to your diet. The more different types of foods you eat, the more likely it is that you will get all of the nutrients you need.
  • Avoid foods that are high in fat. We already know that high fat diets may lead to heart disease and a stroke, but new research shows that it can increase the risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders.[7]

How Diet Can Impact Addiction Recovery

It’s a well-known fact that a large majority of alcoholics and drug addicts are also suffering from some mental disorder as well.[8] In most cases, when a person is able to find relief from the symptoms of their psychiatric disorders, they are better able to manage and defeat their addictions. So it stands to reason that an addict’s diet can affect their recovery.

The primary impact rests on the fact that most alcoholics and drug addicts aren’t engaging in healthy lifestyles that include nutritional diets. Alcohol contains so much fat per gram (and alcoholics often consume so many of their calories from alcohol) and drug use often leads to reduced appetites or for cravings of fatty foods. Many addicts enter treatment suffering from diarrhea, constipation, difficulty with digestion and a diminished appetite. As a result, their immediate diet must help reverse and rebuild some of the damage caused by prolonged substance abuse.[9]

One of the primary goals of any addiction treatment program must focus on improving the overall health and nutrition of an addict, while also rehabbing the addiction. Part of this process includes helping patients learn to make healthier food choices so that their bodies and minds can feel better without the use of drugs or alcohol.

An Integral Part of Our Rehab Programs

Part of what has made Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches elevate itself to being one of the nation’s leaders in addiction care is our commitment to the total patient. We believe in an integration of holistic remedies, innovative therapies and expert psychological counseling. As part of our addiction treatment, we provide our patients with gourmet meals prepared by experienced chefs, nutritional counseling and fitness training.

We are dedicated to not only helping our patients break their addictions, but to also helping them improve the quality of their lives by promoting healthier food decisions. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, please contact us today to begin getting the help you need.