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Heavy body, heavy mind: The relationship between diet and mental health

A look at the relationship between diet and mental health.

Healthy food makes you feel good

It’s a simple statement, and one we’re all familiar with. But now consider that this sense of ‘feeling good’ is not just referring to physical health, but to mental wellbeing, too. Suddenly, such a simple statement begins to take on a new sense of importance.

The Medibank Better Health Index has found we’re heavier of body and mind than ever before, with both mental health and BMIs worsening since 2009. However, interestingly, the findings have also suggested a link between mental health and the consumption of junk food, with the data showing those with high junk food consumption have higher incidence of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress.

This is supported by a variety of studies led by psychiatric epidemiologist and researcher at Deakin University, Professor Felice Jacka, which have similarly observed a relationship between diet and mental wellbeing. Jacka does note that while existing data is consistent, there’s still a question as to whether the association is the result of a causal relationship, or whether other external factors like socioeconomic status could be influencing the trend.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Kevin Cheng, Medical Director, says: “The MBHI data supports what we’re seeing in external studies – showing that there’s undoubtedly a relationship between diet and mental health. More broadly there is emerging evidence of our diet having an impact on the brain – for example, researchers are investigating a direct link between sugar metabolism and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. However, further research is required to confirm the exact nature of these relationships.

“It’s important to bear in mind that there could be a ‘chicken versus egg’ situation here, as changes to dietary habits could actually be the result of mental health symptoms as well. For example, the motivation and capacity of a person to organise a healthy diet and attend regular exercise may be limited by ongoing depression or anxiety.”

Lightening the load – both physically and mentally – isn’t always easy. But it’s important we take what we know and use it to help create a healthier Australia. Check out some of our super simple and delicious recipes that will feed your body, and your mind, all the right stuff.

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