A healthy diet can be more effective than social support when it comes to depression
While the impact of junk food on people’s physical health is well understood, a UAE psychiatrist has highlighted research that links it with mental health issues such as depression.
Psychiatrist Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid at The Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai said a Mediterranean diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, lean meat and olive oil can improve the mental health of adults suffering from depression. It can even be more effective than social support, he said.
“Every day in the UAE, we see more and more fast food outlets opening, while takeaway meals and eating-out have become a way of life for many people,” said Dr Abdul-Hamid.
"The potential issues this is creating for people’s long-term physical health is well documented, but it also threatens to create a mental health time-bomb unless we educate and encourage people to eat balanced diets."
The research, published in global health journal Nutritional Neuroscience, found that healthy dietary changes can prevent depression and improve symptoms of those already living with the condition.
The benefits of a Mediterranean diet were previously linked solely with physical health, as it helps prevent diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Interestingly, it found no evidence that depression itself causes a poor diet.
“This important research exposes just how far-reaching the effects of a poor diet are. Until now, there was no proven link between high levels of processed fast foods, sugar and trans-fats and significant levels of depression and anxiety,” added Dr Abdul-Hamid.
Because Gulf countries have among the highest rates of obesity in the world, according to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), he believes dietary counselling should be offered alongside psychotherapy to prevent and treat mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
“In my experience, some patients living with depression have a tendency to opt for ready-made and fast foods. Switching to a healthy diet can also have a positive effect on self-esteem. The psychological benefit of boosting self-esteem can supplement the physical benefit of a healthy diet, by strengthening the brain and therefore improving mental health,” he said.
He said to optimise mental health, opt for foods that are dense in omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, Thiamine, Folate, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, magnesium and iron.
Foods such as pistachios, garlic, sweet potatoes and salmon are also proven to promote a healthy gut, and are crucial for boosting levels of serotonin, the ‘happy’ chemical in the brain.