Diet Quality & Mental Health

By Debbie Jeffery, RDN LD

The question, “Can What You Eat Affect Your Mental Health?”, is the title of an article that appeared in the Health and Science section of the Washington Post on March 25, 2014. Recent research results have answered this question with a “yes” indicating a link between diet quality and mental health. Whether the impact food has on the mind is as powerful as the influence it has on the body is an area that scientists have recently begun to explore. In several studies, researchers have found lower rates of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders among those who ate a traditional diet of meat and vegetables compared to those who consumed a modern Western diet which was high in processed and fast foods.

How diet relates to mental health is unclear. One theory is that mood disorders change how and what people choose to eat. A second theory is that certain foods or their absence may contribute to poor mental health. For example, studies have shown a link between zinc deficiency and depression.   The lack of strong evidence and well-designed studies plus the fact that mental health is still not well understood has created skepticism in the research and medical community about the diet and mental health connection. However, more studies are beginning to stimulate an interest and some clinicians are advocating diet changes along with more traditional treatments as part of an integrative approach to treating depression. The entire article can be read here.