Mood & Food:
“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
Unfortunately, 1 in 6 people are suffering from poor mental health with depression being classed as the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Due to such a huge prevalence, mental health is becoming a national health issue costing the NHS upwards of £1.25bn between 2015 – 2020. But what if there was a way other than therapy or medicine to prevent and improve mental health symptoms.
Food has often been associated with improving health such as the consumption of fibre-rich foods leading to improved gut health, as well as assisting in improving critical conditions such as heart disease. Along with improving physical health conditions, there is new research into the effects of food on reducing mental health symptoms. Some of the foods which are associated with the condition are described below.
Obesity and the link with depression
Research has shown that people who are obese are 25% more likely to experience a mood disorder, such as depression, in comparison to those who are not obese. This could be due to a number of issues including poor self-image, low self-esteem, social isolation, discrimination and also the extra weight being carried around resulting in chronic joint pain, diabetes and hypertension – all of which are linked to poor mental health.
There is a bidirectional link between these two factors. Depression has been shown to increase the likelihood of obesity, and being obese can cause you to become depressed, resulting in an ongoing cycle that can be hard to break.
A study in Cincinnati can highlight this link. They discovered that teenagers who were borderline obese and depressed, became substantially obese over the following year.
Individuals with depression are more likely to overeat, make poor food choices and participate in less physical activity. There is also evidence that due to people with depression having lower levels of serotonin, they tend to self-medicate through food in order to restore their serotonin levels.
Mediterranean diet – What is it? Why is it so good?
If you consume a western diet (consisting of heavily processed foods, refined carbohydrates, high-fat and high-sugar products) you are more likely to develop a mental disorder. In comparison, the Mediterranean diet has been found to lower the risk of depression.
What should you be eating?
Fruit and vegetables provide you with numerous amounts of fibre and micronutrients which can assist multiple reactions in the body and help to prevent vitamin deficiencies such as scurvy.
Fish (especially those of the oily variety – salmon, mackerel etc.) is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3. This fat acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, and is proven to promote brain development and decrease symptoms of depression – it can even assist in the recovery of stroke victims (a combined treatment of DHA injections combined with dietary fish oil).
Pulses and legumes are great sources of amino acids which are the building blocks of the body. When eaten in combination with lean meat (such as fillet steak) they assist in providing all of the essential amino acids (these are the amino acids which cannot be synthesised by the body and therefore must be obtained through the diet).
As well as sustaining and building muscle, protein can also help to enhance the body’s antioxidant defences, improving immunity.
Wholegrain products are high in fibre and so can improve your digestive health – this is tied in with improving mental health too.
As well as consuming a diet similar to this, the main patterns for good well-being are; eat regular meals, include a range of nutrient dense foods and keep well hydrated.
What are the benefits of switching to a healthy diet?
WELLBEING – As previously suggested, obesity can cause poor self-esteem as well as social isolation and chronic joint pain – all of which affect your mood. Also, if you lose weight as part of a healthy diet, you reduce your risk of developing depression.
WEIGHT LOSS – This is the positive side effect of eating a healthier diet. Even if you consumed the same number of calories as previous, the nutrient content of your diet is much higher and more natural. For example, mono-unsaturated fatty acids in the Mediterranean diet replace the saturated fat from western diets. These fats are anti-inflammatory and are proven to improve heart health (if eaten in the correct quantities/ as a replacement to dietary saturated fats).
ACTIVE – Due to the natural weight loss that will come with this diet as well as a much greater intake of micronutrients, you will find yourself feeling much more energetic and able to do more things (e.g. participate in more exercise and easily run around with your kids).
LESS PAIN – A natural benefit of weight loss is the reduced pressure on your joints, which will relieve at least some of the pain you may have in this area. Therefore, another benefit is that you will need less medication.
HEALTHY – Due to the style of diet and the nutrients you can obtain, this will strengthen your immune system and consequentially cause you to spend less time being ill – it will also be harder for you to become ill. For example, you could be less likely to catch something such as a common cold due to having a stronger immunity.
Whey vs Beef – Which is Better?
The European University of Madrid has reported that switching from whey to beef-derived protein could be more effective at increasing lean body mass and lower-limb muscle strength.
Whey is a mixture of proteins isolated from the liquid material created as a by-product of cheese production. Beef derived protein is pretty self-explanatory, it’s beef which has been processed into a powder form. In contrast to whey, beef has an improved nutritional content and so could be deemed ‘better’ – but how?
The research showed that there are no mid to long term (over 4 weeks) differences on total daily protein intake and body composition between beef and whey protein but beef protein could have additional beneficial effects such as greater haem iron and ferritin levels. These are subject to results of future studies.
Haem iron is an important constituent of haemoglobin, which helps to transport oxygen around the body to supply to various different muscles. Haem iron is found in animal sources which is why it is higher in beef rather than in whey (although whey does contain this due to being derived from animal sources too). Ferritin is an intracellular molecule that stores iron and releases it in a controlled fashion.
Sports nutrition benefits
– Another reason why beef protein could me more beneficial is because of its high leucine content and its anabolic effect. Leucine is the most effective BCAA (branched chain amino acids) at inducing muscle protein synthesis. It acts by inducing activator protein mTOR which then induces muscle synthesis.
– Recent studies have shown that acute ingestion of beef protein increases muscle protein synthesis in both younger and older adults.
– Benefits seem to be maximised when in combination with exercise training (more specifically, resistance training). The difference was noticed between 8 and 16 weeks doing resistance training 2/3 times a week.
– The theory behind swapping whey with beef protein is that the increased total haem iron intake can benefit haematological features in enhancing sports performance.
Personally, I would recommend that the best form of nutrition whether for general or sports specific diets is the most natural form – so in this case, a steak. The whole concept of protein supplements and powders is that it is an easy way to ingest protein without having to eat a massive amount of food which is both time consuming to cook and very filling. But how much protein do you actually need? The average adult needs 0.8g per kg of body weight per day, whereas strength training athletes need 1.4-1.8g per kg body weight per day. So, if you are a strength training athlete, protein powders may be of some help to you, but for the everyday person, you are likely to already be getting more than enough protein from your diet.