How is what we eat linked to our mental health

photo of Liz Barker
Liz Barker
November 16, 2020
contributing author:
Healthy Food Fit for Living

What we eat is directly linked to our physical and mental health. Most of us know that eating a healthy and nutritious diet is good for our physical health. Eating lots of sugary and fatty foods leads to weight gain and can increase your risk of suffering health problems such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes to name a couple.

‍However, the link between nutrition and mental health is not such a widely discussed topic. I am not saying what food someone eats is the cause of mental illness and depression as there are many factors that affect our mental health, but poor nutrition can have a significant impact.  

The same principles of eating well for good physical health apply to our mental health too which means eating a diet with lots of fresh produce, whole grains and lean proteins and avoiding processed foods. Processed food are generally foods that come in packages, cans etc, and common processed foods include: breakfast cereals. biscuits, crisps, pies, pasties and ready meals.

Sanchez-Villegas et al's 2011 study found that those consuming large amounts of fast food were 40% more likely to experience symptoms of depression than their counterparts who were consuming a more nutritious whole food based diet.  

A study by Sutliffe et al in 2018, determined that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and legumes not only increased sleep hygiene and quality of life but also led to halved depression scores. These changes bore no correlation to physical activity, and so they were determined to be solely from a change in diet.

In one study researchers found that men who ate 67 grams of sugar or more per day were 23 percent more likely to have depression after five years. 80% of people in the UK exceed that recommendation. Read labels carefully to spot hidden sugar. Just because something is savoury, like a sauce, or healthy, like yoghurt, doesn’t mean that there isn’t any added sugar, either.

There has been a significantly detrimental impact on mental health due to covid - figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have shown that the number of adults experiencing some form of depression in Great Britain has doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Dark leafy greens are very good for brain health. Also foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines  Nuts, seeds and legumes, such as beans and lentils, are also excellent brain foods.

If you suffer from depression or a mental health illness and would like to chat with us further about how you could use food as an aid to help improve your mental health please get in touch.