A Diet of #Happiness
January 30, 2013
— Deakin University, diet, Dieting, energy, food, Happiness, Health, Junk food, mental-health, Michelle Bridges, Physical exercise, Victoria
“You are what you eat” goes the saying – and what you eat affects more than just your physical well-being.
I’m sure this will come as no great shock, but I don’t think I’ve ever finished an exercise session feeling anything but pumped and exhilarated. Buggered, yes, and sore, often, but always all fired up and ready to take on the world.
I’ve long been an advocate of a good workout to get your head in the right place. Feel-good endorphins and hormones are released by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus at the base of the brain when we exercise, launching us into a “bring it on” state of mind. However, research by an Aussie (of course) academic has concluded that exercise isn’t the only choice on offer for good brain function. A 2010 study by Dr Felice Jacka from Victoria’s Deakin University found that what we eat can have a profound effect on our mental health in the long term, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety.
Jacka interviewed more than 1000 women regarding their diet and mental-health symptoms. What made this study different was that for the first time the whole diet of the subjects was looked at, rather than just the role of specific nutrients, such as omega-3, magnesium and folate, in relation to depression and anxiety disorders. Interestingly, the results were the same, irrespective of age or socio-economic status – or even exercise.
The study found that those subjects who had diets high in processed foods and junk food were more likely to suffer anxiety and depression disorders than those who – you guessed it – had wholefood diets high in vegetables, fruit, fish and other lean protein.
Jacka also conducted a study, published in September last year, on adolescents in relation to diet and mental health. With a quarter of young Australians already experiencing mental-health issues, she found that there was a strong suggestion that it may be possible to help prevent teenage depression by getting youngsters to adopt a nutritious, high-quality diet.
What’s more, changes in the quality of adolescent diets over two years were reflected in the mental health of subjects. So the kids whose diets got worse over the two years had a commensurate deterioration in their mental health, as opposed to an improvement for those kids who adopted a healthier diet. Wow. And people ask me why I keep banging on about diet and exercise!
If we could rein in the junk-food peddlers, make wholefoods a much cheaper alternative, and each increase our exercise to at least 30 minutes a day, our society would benefit at every level.
Start with an experiment – if your diet includes a lot of junk and processed food, go cold turkey for just three days. You will be amazed at how much better you sleep, concentrate, relax and enjoy life. This may just motivate you to change your eating habits for good!