A new guide on how food influences our mood recommends a plant-based diet, high in grains, fibres and fish for positive mental health.
Growing evidence of the link between diet and mental health has led to a collaboration between Manchester Metropolitan’s MetMunch and charity Anxiety UK to highlight the importance of a healthy, varied diet with minimal processed foods in promoting positive mental health.
The human gastrointestinal tract includes at least 1,000 different species of bacteria harbouring more than 100 trillion microbial cells. This gut microbiota, or gut flora, is responsible for proper digestive functioning, as well as a strong immune system.
Recent studies indicate that those with anxiety may have alterations in the content of gut microbes and westernised diets containing high fat foods, red meat, refined sugars may contribute to stress and anxiety.
Individuals who consume a typical Mediterranean diet have lower rates of anxiety, leading nutritionists to investigate what elements mediate anxiety’s effects.
The guide examines the components of a healthy diet in relation to stress, recommending a plant-based diet with a high content of grains, fibres and fish. Nutrients are essential to regulating mood including healthy fats, found in nuts and avocado, omega-3, found in oily fish, folate and b vitamins.
This combination promotes the development of optimal microbiota in the gut and evidence suggests this leads to better mental health.
The project is a winning student-led social enterprise based at Manchester Metropolitan University, promoting sustainable eating and nutrition. Students in Nutritional Science get involved in workshops, pop-ups and education to promote the importance of nutrition and food sustainability locally, nationally and internationally.
The initiative was founded by Haleh Moravej, a Senior Lecturer in Nutritional Science at Manchester Metropolitan University and Clinical Advisor to Anxiety UK. She said: “Over 300 million people suffer from anxiety and depression across the world and the evidence for a link between gut, brain and behaviour is growing all the time.
“The gut has 100 million cells within it and it seems some of these gut bacteria that are good for us have a direct effect on the brain. Eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables, grains, fibres and fish has positive long-term effects on stress and anxiety, rather than sugary, ultra-processed foods, which may feel good initially and then cause you to crash.
“This booklet has been created to educate people on the science behind how food affects mood, and offer advice on what foods to eat to improve the symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.”
Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK said: “It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Haleh and her forward-thinking team on this essential project for Anxiety UK. We’ve had over a thousand downloads of the booklet already since its launch on 10th October, World Mental Health Day, proving the interest in this emerging area of mental health.
“We look forward to continuing to work with MetMUnch and Haleh as we develop other nutritional psychiatry support services for those affected by anxiety, stress and anxiety-based depression to complement the service provision already available through Anxiety UK.”