New research from Swinburne University of Technology shows how food affects mental health – and more importantly, how healthy food promotes a health mind.
Dr Joanna Dipnall, lecturer in the Department of Statistics Data Science and Epidemiology at Swinburne, has developed the Risk Index for Depression (RID). The new formula highlights the connection between lifestyle and mental health, finding that people are more likely to have good mental health if they maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise.
Dipnall created the RID to help assess factors for depression. “It aims to identify individuals with a predisposition to depression as well as which is the key determinant that would reduce this risk,” she says.
Dipnall’s research found that a poor diet and erratic lifestyle with little or no exercise increases the likelihood of depression. It also discovered that the connection between depression and diet is stronger than physiological factors and sleep patterns.
Dipnall suggests choosing a diet high in fibre to promote a healthy mind. “A diet comprised of fibre-rich foods such as leafy green salads, vegetables and whole grains has been consistently associated with a reduced risk for depression,” she says.
Comparatively, a poor diet can lead to an increased risk of depression. “An unhealthy diet high in processed foods and high fat dairy has previously been found to be associated with increased odds for depression.”
Dipnall adds that the gut, which needs fibre to remain healthy, has a key role in maintaining good mental health. “Dietary fibre appears central to gut health, which has recently been a key focus of depression research,” she says. “Our findings provide further support for diet as a key modifiable factor in gut health, and in depression risk.”
More research is expected to be conducted around the RID and how diet connects to mental health.