Can something in your diet be making you feel low? Can the foods you eat possibly help or hinder your mental health? How would you feel if you were told you could improve your mental well-being by small improvements in your diet? The phrase, ‘you are what you eat’ might soon be adapted to; ‘you feel what you eat.’
Research is beginning to show that our diets not only influence our physical health but can affect our mental health too. Most of us experience lows at some stage of our lives whilst some might have an episode of clinical depression. Depression is a major public health problem. Between 5 and 10% of the UK population suffered from depression at any one time. In fact, over a lifetime we all have a 20% chance of suffering an episode of depression. That’s one out of every five listeners right now. People with clinical depression often feel low mood or loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities which lasts for at least two weeks.
Some studies have shown specific nutrients have beneficial effects on low mood and depression: for example, omega 3 fatty acids and folic acid. An important point to mention is that there is a lot of inconclusive evidence supporting the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Many studies are questioned in terms of their study design and scientific validity. The conclusions drawn from these studies should be taken with a pinch of salt, please excuse the pun.
Going back to the scientific evidence for the benefits for omega 3 acids on depression, one study looking at people with clinical depression gave half of them an omega 3 fatty acid capsule and the other half a placebo capsule. The subjects did not know which capsule they were taking and after 12 weeks those receiving the capsule containing the omega 3 fatty acid had marked improvements in their depression compared to those receiving the placebo. You can boost your intake of omega 3 fatty acids by eating oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and fresh tuna. Folic acid, which is a B vitamin, is found in green leafy vegetables and fortified breads and breakfast cereals.
But don’t get hung up on eating one particular food because good dietary habits, including eating breakfast, and plenty of fruits and vegetables and having a home-cooked meal with the family are also suggested to protect against depression.