The relationship between nutrition and mental health is bidirectional: the foods we eat affect our mental health, and the state of our mental health affects what and how well we eat. This month, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) are partnering to highlight the relationship between nutrition and mental health. To learn more about how the public views diet and mental health, the APA conducted a survey between March 16 and 17, 2023, among a sample of 2,200 adults.
- Two-thirds (66%) of adults surveyed said they felt familiar with the link between diet and mental health.
- Four in five (81%) adults would be willing to change their diet in a way that has a positive impact on mental health.
- Four in ten (43%) would be very willing to change their diet to improve their mental health.
A growing body of research points to the mental health benefits of healthy eating. Studies have identified specific benefits in dealing with depression, and several studies point to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. A 2019 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables positively affects psychological health, and daily vegetable consumption has a therapeutic effect by reducing depressive symptoms in people with clinical depression. A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine webinar presentation highlighting nutrition and mental health reports how dietary improvements can improve depression. A healthy diet provides more vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, and fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, which can reduce inflammation and alter neurotransmitters to reduce symptoms of depression.
A 2022 study published in Current developments in nutrition and led by ASN member Jessica Bice, PhD, evaluated the effects of the Mediterranean diet in the treatment of moderate to severe depression among men aged 18 to 25 years. The Mediterranean diet, based on the eating patterns of people in the Mediterranean region, includes more fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and healthy fats (poly- and monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, and seeds). All study participants were diagnosed with major depressive disorder and were divided into a dietary intervention group and a control group for a 12-week parallel-group randomized controlled trial. The dietary intervention group received nutritional counseling and meal planning assistance to adhere to the Mediterranean diet. The dietary intervention group showed significant improvements in depressive symptoms with a mean reduction of 20.6 points on the Beck Depression Inventory Scale—Version II, compared with a 6.2 point reduction for the control group.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Understanding and managing mental disorders is a public health challenge. Research continues to expand our understanding of the relationship between diet and the mind, and current evidence supports that diet has a role in psychological health.
For the American Psychiatric Association
The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the nation’s oldest medical association. APA is also the world’s largest psychiatric association, with more than 38,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illness. APA’s vision is to provide access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit www.psychiatry.org.
About the American Society for Nutrition
In 2028, ASN will celebrate 100 years as a leading nutrition advocate, publishing timely and important findings in basic, clinical, and emerging nutrition sciences. The society’s publications, The Journal of Nutrition, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Advances in Nutrition, and Current Developments in Nutrition are the leading journals in the field of nutrition. In addition to research reports, journals enhance content by providing commentaries and critical reviews written by leaders in the scientific community and special supplement issues on nutrition-related topics. ASN’s flagship annual meeting, Nutrition, brings together top researchers, practitioners, global and public health professionals, policy and advocacy leaders, industry, media and other related professionals to promote the science of nutrition and its practical application. ASN advocates for nutrition research and resources and by working with Congress and federal agencies on issues that impact the way nutrition scientists and clinicians conduct research or treat their patients. ASN also collaborates with organizations on general nutrition issues to build coalitions and advance issues of mutual interest, such as this collaboration with the American Psychiatric Association. For more information, visit nutrition.org/.