Cut down on sugary drinks and fast food, eat more fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods. We all know that advice. It’s not only the healthy eating advice that comes from the government, it’s also our cancer prevention recommendations.
If that’s not enough to convince you then there’s more — what we eat can affect our mental wellbeing.
There is increasing evidence that children and adolescents who eat diets higher in healthy foods are more likely to have better mental health. There’s also evidence that adults who eat more fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains may be less at risk of depression, while those who eat lots of highly processed foods are at an increased risk of depression.
What does that mean about what we should eat?
Many of these studies talk about ‘dietary patterns’ and not specific foods. That means that rather than look at every ingredient or food we eat, let’s take a step back and look at our meals and our shopping trolleys. Are they filled with fruit, vegetables, nuts, egumes, fish and wholegrains? Is it hard to spot a sugary drink, salty or sugary snack or fried food?
Studies have found people who have a dietary pattern of mainly whole foods- lots of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, fish, olive oil and low-fat dairy and only small amounts of meats, have a decreased risk of depression. Those whose dietary pattern includes more red and processed meat, lollies, high-fat dairy and refined grains (for example, white bread and flour) and less fruit and vegetables are at increased risk of depression.
Food for thought
The dietary pattern for good mental health is like that for cancer prevention:
eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and fibre
cut down on red and processed meat
limit sugary drinks and fast food.
A diet that helps prevent cancer also helps your mental wellbeing.
However, this recommended dietary pattern is not reflected in what we see advertised. Manufacturers and retailers heavily advertise, promote and discount unhealthy foods.
To help us make these changes to our diet there should be policies that limit unhealthy food advertising to children, stop unhealthy food promotions at the end of supermarket aisles and add levies on foods that provide little nutritional benefit.
And let’s not forget physical activity; being physically active not only also helps our mood, it’s great cancer prevention advice too!
Start eating more vegetables and try this hidden veg pasta sauce which is super tasty. Get three serves of vegetables in half a cup of sauce. Use as a pizza sauce, on pasta or in place of tinned tomatoes in recipes.