Nourishing the mind and body benefits generations to come

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) reports that recent evidence suggests the importance of good nutrition as a benefit to mental health. The evidence linking the two is growing and includes the effect of good nutrition on both short-term and long-term mental health. The development, management and prevention of specific conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer’s disease are all affected by diet.

MHF notes that almost two-thirds of those who do not report mental health problems eat fresh fruit or drink fruit juice each day compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems. The results are the same regarding the consumption of fresh vegetables and salad.

People who do have some level of mental illness eat fewer healthy foods and fewer meals made from scratch. They adhere to less healthy foods such as chips, chocolate, processed foods and takeout foods. A feeling of wellbeing and a balanced mood can be attained by making sure a diet includes complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and adequate water consumption.

Modern food production means that diets have changed considerably compared to those of our ancestors. Manufacturing advancements combined with changing lifestyles and increased access to ready-to-eat foods have lowered the intake of fresh, local produce and increased the amount of consumed fat, sugar and additives. It is estimated that the average person in industrialized countries eats more than eight pounds of additives every year, not food, additives.

Good nutrition is essential to physical health as well as mental health and Michael Mosley, writing for BBC News, says that new research has revealed the impact of a mother’s diet at the time of conception on the rest of her baby’s life. A team from Britain’s Medical Research Council collected data on births, marriages and deaths in Keneba, Gambia, since the 1940s.They discovered that babies conceived in January and born in September were seven times more likely to die in early adulthood than babies conceived in September and born in June.

The data is based upon the parent’s diet at the time their baby was conceived and the current weather patterns. In Gambia, the weather is stable with the wet season being July to November; the remaining months are mostly dry. The majority of the Gambian diet in the dry season consists of rice and couscous. During the rainy season there is less food but plenty of green, leafy vegetables are available.

The amount of vegetables eaten by the mother (and possibly the father) has a big impact on the life of the child if conception occurs when vegetables are plentiful. Interestingly, the effects do not appear until the child is approximately 15 years old when the disparity in the death rate becomes apparent.

The researchers believe the effects are subsequently passed on in the genetic code meaning that a pregnant woman’s healthy diet could affect not only her children’s health but also the health of her grandchildren. The study authors noted, “This may imply that improved maternal nutrition during gestation may benefit the health of many generations to come.”

The more that is learned about nutrition, the more patterns that are drawn between diet and mental and physical wellness. Optimum mental and physical health is closely linked to a healthy diet even before we are born.

If you have questions or need further information, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at any time. If you are dealing with mental health problems, we can connect you with a treatment program that is right for you.