Is Your Diet Causing Your Depression?

If you suffer from depression or anxiety or other mental illness, it may help to look closely at your diet. link between diet and mental health is just as strong as the link between diet and physical health. “There’s a very strong link between quality of diet and risk of common mental disorders like depression and anxiety,” Felice Jacka, associate professor, psychiatric epidemiologist, and director of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, told HuffPost Australia.women laying on couch in therapy session

The Science of Nutritional Psychiatry

The Food and Mood Centre is the only research center in the world specifically focusing on nutritional psychiatry research. “This evidence base is relatively new,” Jacka said. Although the Centre, and the field of nutritional psychiatry, have only recently been established, Jacka reports that they have “conducted a huge amount of research,” yielding findings that include “a link between diet quality and depression and anxiety in children, young adults, adults, and the elderly.”

This new field of research offers completely new methods of treating and preventing mental illness. The mainstays of psychiatric treatments—pharmacological drugs—have achieved only modest benefits in addressing mental health. Compelling evidence indicates that nutrition could be a crucial factor in combating increased prevalence of mental health issues around the globe.

How Dietary Patterns Affect Your Mental Health

Jacka and her team analyze how different dietary patterns support or undermine mental wellbeing. One clear connection the team has identified so far is between rates of depression and intake of processed foods that contain high concentrations of…

  • Fat
  • Sugar
  • Carbohydrates
  • Emulsifiers
  • Artificial flavors

Similarly, there is a relation between incidences of depression and low intake of healthful foods, for instance…

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Legumes
  • Fish
  • Lean red meat

“Even if you’re eating good food, if you’re also eating a lot of junk food, it can be a problem,” Jacka said. On the other hand, even if you eat little or no junk food, you can off-balance your mental health by not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

The Truth About Eating a Healthy Diet

The Food and Mood Centre researchers believe that focusing on the impact of individual foods on mental health is “a bit of a red herring.” As Jacka pointed out, “you never eat individual foods in isolation.” The important thing, they believe, is to establish healthy dietary bowl of fruitpatterns. “It all comes down to a very simple adage,” Jacka said. “‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ It doesn’t have to be complicated, it’s really that simple.”

Finding that mental health and diet are so interconnected has “huge implications for public health,” Jacka said. “We need to take very powerful action at the government level to change the food environment to make healthy food the easy option, the most socially acceptable option, and the cheapest option.”

On a personal level, remember that what Jacka and her team believe to be most important is nutritional balance. A healthy diet can even include junk food on occasion, as long as it’s combined with high quantities of veggies and other nutrient-rich options.