For the first time scientists have shown that, in women at least, the consumption of a poor quality diet, high in junk foods, increases the risk for depression and anxiety.
The findings suggest that making healthy dietary choices such as regularly consuming fresh fruits and vegetables and eating whole grains, nuts and seeds, and oily fish, while limiting processed and junk foods, may help to prevent mood disorders.
The scope of the study did not allow the researchers to determine whether women already suffering from depression and/or anxiety may benefit from switching to a healthier diet but plans for a study that will answer this question are being prepared and funding sought. Previous research has suggested that individual nutrients obtained in adequate amounts through consumption of a healthy and balanced diet (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish) might be beneficial in the treatment of mood disorders.
The study was conducted at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and involved over 1000 women from a cross-section of society. Women who followed the Australian government's national dietary guidelines for healthy eating were less likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression or suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Deakin University research fellow Dr. Felice Jacka told the Sydney Morning Herald that "...conversely, women who mostly ate junk and processed foods were more likely to have depression and exhibit increased psychological symptoms".
The study accounted for other factors known to influence mental health including the women's socio-economic status, education, how much they exercised, whether they smoked and the presence of obesity and physical illnesses. It was revealed that regardless of these other influences, diet quality had a significant influence on the incidence of depression and anxiety. The consumption of a poor quality diet can therefore be considered to be an independent risk factor for mental health issues.
Dr Jacka said the study’s findings are important because they may help prevent depression. With the knowledge obtained governments and health authorities can educate the public about the mental health risks of existing on a diet of processed and junk foods, particularly if the findings are replicated in future studies.
So it seems at least one of the keys to good health, whether physical or mental, is the consumption of a balanced diet based on fresh foods and healthy cooking methods.