The link between diet and depression

By Diet, Food, Food for thought, Health, Mental Health
“In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 percent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.”   Beyond Blue


The impact of depression on both a personal and global level is hugely significant and far-reaching. Today, treatment options for depression include various medication prescribed by a doctor, various forms of therapy and self-care.

A recent article from Harvard Medical School detailed an overlooked aspect of self-care – diet. Diet and lifestyle factors have an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, and mental health disorders, including depression, yet we sometimes pay more attention to medications and therapy as the go-to solutions for mental health outcomes [1].



We can see that diet impacts every aspect of our health and in particular, our mental health. So, we need to sit up and take notice! It isn’t merely about recovery but also prevention, and working towards living the best life you possibly can.

The 20th Century has seen our world, and subsequently, our eating habits change rapidly. From the introduction of high fructose corn syrup to processed and sugary foods being more readily available, we can see a sharp decline in the consumption of good-quality, nutrient-dense, natural, whole foods. We are living a fast-life with fast-food becoming a norm. Rushed eating, readily available (cheaper) processed options and an unawareness of the impact of a healthy diet have led to this growing reliance on fast-food.



Several recent research analyses examining multiple studies support this link between diet and the risk of depression.


“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.” [2]


The impact of diet can impact more than just the individual. A recent study of more than 20,000 mothers and their children found that the children of mothers who ate an unhealthier diet during their pregnancy had a higher level of behaviours that are linked to mental disorders.

It is essential to view diet as a key element in the prevention of mental illness.


Remember to:


–  Eat an abundance of fruits, veggies, whole grains (in unprocessed form), seeds and nuts.

–  Add in some lean proteins like fish and unsweetened yoghurt.

–  Avoid added sugars or flours (like bread, baked goods, cereals, and pasta).

–  Minimise animal fats and processed meats.


Remember moderation and quality are essential!



Check out Harvard ‘Health Dietary Styles‘ for further reading.

The profound consequences of lack of sleep

By depression, Food for thought, Health, sleep

“Not getting enough sleep can have profound consequences on a daily and potentially long-term basis for your health and mental well-being.”


We live in a fast-paced society that often praises hard work, long hours and productivity. Lack of quality sleep not only impacts on our health and wellbeing but also on our performance, both at work and at home.



Short-term effects:


Mood changes

Judgement Impairment

Reactivity to situations

Reduces the ability to retain information

Increases the risk of serious accident or injury


Long-term effects:


Increased risk of chronic disease

(obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality)

Reduction in quality of life



Sleep & Obesity:


During sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that help to control appetite, energy metabolism, and glucose processing. Insufficient sleep is associated with lower levels of leptin (a hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food), higher levels of ghrelin (a biochemical that stimulates appetite) and an increase in cortisol (often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’).

The above can potentially lead to food cravings, overeating and a lack of energy for exercise – a dangerous combination.



Sleep and cardiovascular disease and stroke:


Studies have shown that just one night of inadequate sleep can lead to increased blood pressure in people who have existing hypertension. This relationship may point towards a correlation between poor sleep and cardiovascular disease and stroke.

One study found that sleeping too little (less than six hours) or too much (more than nine hours) increased the risk of coronary heart disease in women.

Additional research studies have shown that regularly sleeping more than nine hours is also associated with poor health.



Sleep & alcohol:


Studies have shown that alcohol use is more prevalent among people who have poor sleep habits or insomnia.

Whether it’s an ‘old-wives tale’ to have a shot of whiskey before bed or a regular favourite activity to have a ‘nightcap’. How does alcohol actually affect sleep?

Alcohol is indeed a mild sedative so can enhance the initial phases of sleep, however, this sedative quality is only temporary. As alcohol is processed by the body, it begins to stimulate the parts of the brain that cause arousal, hence the common occurrence of waking frequently after consuming alcohol before bed.



Sleep & productivity:


American Insomnia Study undertaken by Harvard Medical School found that lack of quality sleep is costing the average US worker 11.3 days, or $2,280 in lost productivity every year. On the flip side, adequate sleep can promote better problem solving skills and an increase in productivity. 


How can we improve our sleep?


These statistics are daunting, however, there are always positive steps we can take to improve our health – starting with quality sleep. Please see below a list of recommendations from The National Sleep Foundation to improve your quality of sleep (and your health):

–  Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake at the same time every day (including weekends) this will help your body clock to regulate.

–  Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.

–  If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.

–  Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.

 Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool and comfortable. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.

–  Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up.


Happy (deep) snoozing!