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Recent evidence suggests that good nutrition is essential for our mental health and that a number of mental health conditions may be influenced by dietary factors.
One of the most obvious, yet under-recognised factors in the development of major trends in mental health is the role of nutrition. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. As well as its impact on short and long-term mental health, the evidence indicates that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Nearly two thirds of those who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit or fruit juice every day, compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems. This pattern is similar for fresh vegetables and salad. Those who report some level of mental health problem also eat fewer healthy foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, organic foods and meals made from scratch) and more unhealthy foods (chips and crisps, chocolate, ready meals and takeaways).
A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water. While a healthy diet can help recovery, it should sit alongside other treatments recommended by your doctor.
(Extract from the Mental Health Foundation’s Diet and Mental Health Guide. See the full version here)
Feeding Minds A report published by the Mental Health Foundation in 2006 . This report lays out the evidence linking trends in food consumption with mental ill-health, and supports the case for an integrated approach to the treatment of mental health problems, identifying nutrition as a key component. You can download the report by clicking on the title.
Also from the Mental Health Foundation:
Nutrients Table The full nutrients table from the Feeding Minds guide, with details of the types of nutrients that can help your mental health and the foods that contain them. You can download the table by clicking on the title.
Food and Mood Diary A printable food and mood diary from the Mental Health Foundatiom that will help you understand how the way you feel is affected by what you drink and eat. You can download the diary by clicking on the title.
Mentally Healthy Recipes Download recipes from the Feeding Minds guide, including dishes by Anthony Worrall Thompson and other celebrities.
Other Publications and Guides
Food and mood A guide to food and mood produced by Mind, with information about what you can do to get support. Many people are seeking to take control of their mental health using self-help, and to find approaches they can use alongside, or even instead of, prescribed medication. One self-help strategy is to make changes to what we eat, and there is a growing interest in how food and nutrition can affect emotional and mental health. Click on the title to read the full guide.
Eating well and mental health This leaflet produced by the Royal College of Psychiatry is for everyone who wants to eat healthily. It is particularly for people who feel that their mental health problem or its treatment has affected them in the way they eat.
Nutrition for Mental Health Issues – from Nutritionist Resource Nutritional information and advice about nutrition and mental health problems – depression, seasonal affective disorder and schizophrenia.
Good Mood Food – Ingredients to Improve Your Mental Health Improve your mental health with a good mood food shopping list of healthy ingredients to help with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder.
Promoting Mental Health through Healthy Eating and Nutritional Care, Dietitians of Canada, November 2012 This role paper informs decision makers about the dietitian’s role in nutrition and mental health. Mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”1. Good nutrition is integral to mental health. As experts advising on diet, food and nutrition, Registered Dietitians have an important role in mental health promotion, disease prevention, and treatment for a wide variety of mental health conditions. Dietitians of Canada (DC), the national professional association for dietitians, recognizes that all dietitians work either directly or indirectly in mental health and commissioned this document which examines the various intersections between nutrition and mental health. The overall goal is to support the work of dietitians and to guide future dietetics practice as it relates to mental health. This document also provides policy makers, and other interested groups and individuals, with an evidence-based summary of the current literature about the promotion of mental health through healthy eating and nutritional care.
The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health Promotion and Prevention (1) The promotion of optimal nutrition that supports mental health through public health, policy, and programming can lead to reductions in health and social costs. Public health messaging and social marketing that highlight the importance of healthy eating and mental health, initiatives targeted at building healthy food environments (e.g., sodium reduction, banning trans fats, food guidelines for schools and recreation facilities), food policy aimed at supporting the general population’s mental health, and continued investigative work that strengthens the evidence base about diet and the prevention of mental health conditions are important mechanisms to support mental health promotion and disease prevention.
The Role of Nutrition Care for Mental Health Conditions (2) Advocacy is needed for nutrition interventions targeted for mental health consumers. Strategies include food security initiatives, healthy-eating education, food skills training (e.g., preparing, cooking, growing food), promoting nutrition literacy (e.g., develop easy-tounderstand nutrition labelling of foods), and development of nutrition and mental health educational materials (e.g., diet to prevent mental health problems, how to manage nutritional side effects of psychiatric medications, nutrition guidelines for specific conditions). Dietitian services are important to all levels of mental health practice: promotion, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. Diet therapy should be recognized as a cornerstone of mental health interventions in clinical practice guidelines and standards of care.
Nutrition and Mental Health: Therapeutic Approaches (3) Dietitians of Canada, November 2012 Mental health professionals and health care/service providers working with mental health consumers to improve dietary intakes could benefit from increased knowledge of nutrition related to mental health issues. Participation of dietitians should be integrated into primary and specialty care teams and in vocation, education, and residential programs serving this population. Rehabilitative services (e.g., prisons, group homes) should incorporate healthy eating and culturally diverse food policies that encourage residents to choose foods that promote mental and physical well-being. Initiatives that include training of para-professionals and peer workers, dietitian services at drop-in centres, shelters, and transitional houses, and use of technology and telehealth can enhance access to nutrition services. Mental health service staff (e.g., mental health workers, psychiatric nurses) should have easy access to Registered Dietitians for consultation.
Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry, Dr Jerome Sarris et al, The Lancet,Volume 2, No. 3, p271–274, March 2015 Psychiatry is at an important juncture, with the current pharmacologically focused model having achieved modest benefits in addressing the burden of poor mental health worldwide. Although the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology. Evidence is steadily growing for the relation between dietary quality (and potential nutritional deficiencies) and mental health, and for the select use of nutrient-based supplements to address deficiencies, or as monotherapies or augmentation therapies. We present a viewpoint from an international collaboration of academics (members of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research), in which we provide a context and overview of the current evidence in this emerging field of research, and discuss the future direction. We advocate recognition of diet and nutrition as central determinants of both physical and mental health.
Evidence database A database from Food For the Brain. Here you can find what’s been published on any aspect of mental health and nutrition, from recent to old.
Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao, M. R. Asha, B. N. Ramesh, and K. S. Jagannatha Rao, Indian J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun; 50(2): 77–82. Few people are aware of the connection between nutrition and depression while they easily understand the connection between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness. Depression is more typically thought of as strictly biochemical-based or emotionally-rooted. On the contrary, nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression. Many of the easily noticeable food patterns that precede depression are the same as those that occur during depression. These may include poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods. Nutritional neuroscience is an emerging discipline shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions.
The neglected ‘m’ in MCH programmes – why mental health of mothers is important for child nutrition Atif Rahman, Vikram Patel , Joanna Maselko and Betty Kirkwood In most societies, mothers are the primary providers of nutrition and care to young children. This is a demanding task, and poor physical or mental health in mothers might be expected to have adverse consequences on their children’s health, nutrition and psychological well-being. Child nutrition programmes do not adequately address maternal mental health. In this article, we consider the evidence from less developed countries on whether maternal mental health influences child growth, with respect to evidence from both observational studies and from clinical trials. We estimate how much of the burden of undernutrition might be averted in one setting, and propose that promoting maternal mental health and treating maternal mental illness offer important new opportunities to tackle the twin scourges of maternal ill-health and child undernutrition.
The surprisingly dramatic role of nutrition in mental health , Julia Rucklidge, TEDx Christchurch This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. In this critically important talk, clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge explores a range of scientific research, including her own, showing the significant role played by nutrition in mental health or illness.
Food for the Brain “The conventional treatment for schizophrenia is usually long-term treatment with antipsychotic medication. A nutritional approach works alongside conventional treatment and may improve both positive and negative symptoms, and also reduce the side-effects of medication”