Tailored diets are essential for mental health, according to new research

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  • A healthy diet is essential for optimum mental health
  • A new study acknowledged individual differences such as age and gender when looking into diet and health
  • They found that, based on individual differences, customised diets are needed to improve mental health

It is widely known that eating an unhealthy diet negatively affects mental health, but how does a healthy diet affect mental health, and what defines a healthy diet?

“There is increasing evidence that diet plays a major role in improving mental health,” said Lina Begdache, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University.

“We need to consider a spectrum of dietary and lifestyle changes based on different age groups and gender. There is no one healthy diet that will work for everyone. There is no one fix.”

Begdache and her research team conducted a study revealing that in order to achieve optimum mental health, lifestyle changes need to be made, and this includes following a customised diet.

No universal diet for good mental health

The team collected data by conducting an online survey in order to study the food consumption, eating habits, exercise levels and other lifestyle factors in four subpopulations, where they considered “differences in degree of brain maturity between young (18 to 29 years) and mature (30 years or older) adults as well as brain morphology among men and women”.

Data were collected over a five-year period (2014 to 2019) from more than 2 600 participants who completed the questionnaire. 

The team split the respondents into two groups based on their age, and found that the quality of a young adult’s diet impacts their still-developing brain.

“Young adults are still forming new connections between brain cells as well as building structures, therefore, they need more energy and nutrients to do that,” Begdache explained.

So, when young adults eat a low-quality diet, they are more likely to experience mental distress. Begdache expressed that caffeine also negatively affects the mental wellbeing of younger individuals:

“Caffeine is metabolised by the same enzyme that metabolises the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen, and young adults have high levels of these hormones. When young men and women consume high levels of caffeine, it stays in their system for a long time and keeps stimulating the nervous system, which increases stress and eventually leads to anxiety.”

Men less affected by diet than women

When comparing male respondents to females, the team found a difference in nutritional needs between the genders.

“As long as [men] eat a slightly healthy diet they will have good mental wellbeing. It's only when they consume mostly fast food that we start seeing mental distress,” Begdache stated.

“Women, on the other hand, really need to be consuming a whole spectrum of healthy food and doing exercise in order to have positive mental wellbeing. These two things are important for mental wellbeing in women across age groups.”

Currently, there are no recommendations for food intake, specifically regarding the impact it has on mental health, but Begdache hopes that her research can help to initiate a change in this regard. 

Image credit: Pexels

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