Diet & Mental Health
A few weeks back the Ministry of Health in India had tweeted a picture about various ways to cope with depression. They included diet i.e. eating fruits and vegetables as one of those ways. I was at first glance aghast at the ignorance of our ministry. Later, I decided that I should take a deeper look into each way. You can read a round-up of all those methods here. Right now, I wish to focus on the effect our diets have with our mental health.
Effect of Diet on Mental Health
There have been various studies that looked into the said effect. Most of them came to the conclusion that there is a link between mental health and eating fruits and vegetables. What all of them lack in, though, is the reasoning behind this said effect. We have proven, hence, that there is a relation between our diet and our depressive scales but no one knows why or how much.
Researchers define a ‘good’ diet as one that includes eating breakfast at home on school days; eating lunch brought from home; consuming two or more fruit serves per day; four or more vegetable serves per day; fruit and/or sandwiches as after school snacks; generally avoiding biscuits, potato chips, pies, hot chips, fried foods, chocolate, sweets, ice-creams as after school snacks. (that doesn’t bode very well for me)
Correlation is not Causation
If you search ‘diets for depression’ on Google, you will get loads of articles talking about which diet to follow or what to eat. The disclaimer that they mention in passing is that it hasn’t been scientifically proven to be a cure. These articles make the mistake of equating correlation for causation. If red wine is correlated with lower scores on depression inventories, it doesn’t mean that red wine cures depression. It is one of the most repeated phrases in science but many still fail to grab it.
Dietary Solution are Attractive
You know when I read or listen to people telling others to eat garlic or fruits to cure depression, I am not angry. I actually understand where they come from a bit. Depression is something that many people don’t know a lot about.
Dietary changes offer a seemingly simple solution to a very complex and serious problem. They attract but ultimately end up being fool’s gold. Moreover, there is so much fear surrounding mental illnesses that we tend to go for alternative solutions. At best, a healthy diet may reduce your chances of getting depression or anxiety but they will not end it. Battling depression is much more complex and time consuming than eating the right things.
O’neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S. L., Williams, L. J., Pasco, J. A., … & Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. American journal of public health, 104(10), e31-e42.
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