Can diet play a part in how we feel mentally and emotionally? According to more and more studies, yes, it can! Apart from diet, our lifestyle choices can also contribute. Not only to our overall mental health, but good cognitive function. As we get older, it is important to consider a diet and lifestyle which also embraces social connection, good sleep and regular exercise. Enter the Mediterranean Diet! More than a diet it’s a lifestyle, one which supports us from our head to our toes, at every age. Clinical Psychologist Dorothea Vallianos explains some of the research which supports adopting a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle for a long, healthy and happy life.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle: A Recipe for Living a Happier, Healthier, Longer Life.
By Clinical Psychologist Dorothea Vallianos
There is little doubt that what we eat can positively or negatively affect our body. But what about our mind, mental health and brain function? More consistent studies are needed; however, emerging research suggests that by making some simple changes in our diet, or simply adopting a Mediterranean Diet, may improve our cognitive function and mental health. For instance, just as our brain may impact our gut and we experience nausea when stressed or nervous, it’s possible that what we put in our gut can affect how our brain functions.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle encapsulates what studies are continuing to recognise as the benefits of certain foods and behaviours that promote good mental health. Recent studies have found compelling evidence that draw a link between the foods we eat and the likelihood of depression. In fact what we eat seems to have an impact on our mental health.
A 2018 meta-analysis and systematic review, conducted by Lassale et al. out of the University College London, looked at over 40 studies, involving adults from Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, France and the United States. They found that people who eat pro-inflammatory foods, such as foods rich in trans-fats, sugar and processed meats, were more likely to suffer from depression. Conversely, researchers found that eating a plant-based diet may reduce inflammation in the brain and those who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 33 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with depression. While further studies are required to fully assess the role of dietary patterns in prevention, intensity and occurrence of depression, these preliminary results are exciting.
Sleep, exercise and social connections have also been identified in recent studies as promoting good mental health and being clear contributing factors to the exceptional health found in “Super Agers”. Super Agers are the fit 80 year olds who retain cognitive abilities similar to those of 50 year olds. While our genetics have some influence over how we age; our choices on how we live, physically and socially, have a significant impact on the quality of our lives. Knowing this can empower us to recognise we have more control over ageing than we first believed.
The Northwestern University Super Aging Program studies a rare cohort of individuals over age 80 whose cognition and memory ability is at least as good as middle-age adults. This program aims to determine what aspects of psychological well-being contribute to Super Agers’ elite cognitive and memory abilities. Cook Maher et al. (2017) observed that one key difference between Super Agers and their cognitively healthy, but average-for-age peers, was their higher levels of positive relations with others. This suggests that this aspect of mental well-being could be an important modifiable factor in improving our cognitive ageing.
In summary, people who have close positive relationships, exercise regularly, have a hobby, manage stress effectively, think positively, challenge themselves cognitively and follow a Mediterranean diet seem to reap the benefits of a healthier life.
Dorothea will be speaking at the Mediterranean Diet Expo
I’ll be talking at the Mediterranean Expo this year on Sunday, October 27. My aim will be to introduce you to the Mediterranean Lifestyle, explain its benefits, and look at how you can implement useful habits into your life. My talk will be on from 12pm to 12.30pm. This event is in Brisbane at The Greek Club. Please feel free to visit my table, Circle of Life Therapy, and ask any questions you like regarding transitioning to and living healthier life!MEDITERRANEAN DIET EXPO
- Cook Maher, A., Kielb, S., Loyer, E., Connelley, M., Rademaker, A., Mesulam, M., Weintraub, S., McAdams, D., Logan, R. and Rogalski, E. (2017). Psychological well-being in elderly adults with extraordinary episodic memory. PLOS ONE, 12(10), p.e0186413.
- Lassale, C., Batty, G., Baghdadli, A., Jacka, F., Sánchez-Villegas, A., Kivimäki, M., & Akbaraly, T. (2018). Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Molecular Psychiatry, 24(7), 965-986. doi: 10.1038/s41380-018-0237-8