Poor Diet Linked to Mental Illness

Growing evidence shows a strong correlation between poor diet and mental illness.  People suffering from severe mental illness consume more calories, more salt and sugar, and fewer nutrient dense foods like vegetables, nuts and fruit.  Evidence also shows that the poor diet is not a result of mental illness, but is discernable in the months and years before diagnosis.  Furthermore, binge eating is a recognized pattern with mental illness, and can become comorbidity as well.

Correlation is not causation, meaning that we can’t yet say that poor diet causes mental illness, but there is a clear connection within the extremely complex relationship between physical and mental health.  Diet and nutrition are critical components of care and treatment of mental health conditions, and should be considered central to mental health care.

A 2015 study from Australia found that patients who had previously sought treatment for depression, but were not depressed at the time of the study had higher scores on “healthy diet” and lower scores on “typical Western diet” (high in saturated fats and sugars).  This result led researchers to hypothesize that being in treatment for depression motivated patients to improve their diets, leading to long-term healthier outcomes.  Diet improvement is an achievable goal, with observable results in terms of greater mood stability and less depression.

MoodSurfing has been pushing the Mediterranean Diet as an evidence-based way to improve mental and physical health, and these results only strengthen the evidence.  This particular study did not focus on the Mediterranean diet as such, but recommended that people eat more “nutrient dense” foods, such as fish, lean meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, etc.

From the point of view of self-treatment, it is not necessary to fully adopt a “named” diet, such as the Mediterranean, Atkins, or other system.  The important (and doable) thing is to gradually cut out empty calories and eat more healthy foods.  Clear connections can be made between the daily food choices we make and the improvement in our long-term health that we can achieve.