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BBC Consumer Affairs correspondent, Nicola Carslaw
"A great deal more scientific research needs to be done"
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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 07:06 GMT
Mental health: You are what you eat
One in four feel better after eating chocolate
Mental health can be significantly improved by a simple change in diet, according to mental health charity Mind.

It has published a new guide to mood and food, highlighting how strong the relationship is between what people eat and how they feel.

While it is well established that diet can affect physical health, the guide points out that there is also a strong link between food and mental wellbeing.

In a survey to coincide with Mind Week, one-in-four people said that eating chocolate improved their mood - though for many this was short-lived.

However, one-in-five respondents said sweet and sugary foods had a negative effect on their mental health.

Symptoms made worse

Diet can aggravate the symptoms of a whole range of illnesses including autism, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

The Mind Guide to Food and Mood lists some of the foods which are most likely to affect people's moods including:

  • artificial flavourings and preservatives
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • eggs
  • milk products
  • oranges
  • sugar
  • wheat products.

Foods required for good mental health include plenty of fruit and vegetables and those containing essential fatty acids, such as sardines, tuna, salmon, pumpkin and walnuts.

The book's author, nutritional therapist Amanda Geary, has developed a sample meal which is designed to produce a lift in mood.

It consists of oily fish such as sardines, tuna or salmon with a salad of lettuce, avocado and pumpkins seeds, followed by stewed fruit with dried apricots and bananas on an oatcake biscuit base, topped with walnuts.

The combination of foods releases sugars slowly, in contrast to caffeine and chocolate which give an immediate boost followed by a dip.

Positive eating: food for mental wellbeing
Tuna, salmon, sardines or mackerel
Salad of lettuce, avocado, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
Wholewheat pasta
Stewed fruit, dried apricot and banana on oatcake biscuit base, chopped walnuts
"A lot of people who I see with problems such as anxiety and panic attacks and PMS find a significant improvement in their mental health by changing their diet," she told BBC News Online.

"Obviously there are a large number of factors affecting mental health but food is proving to be one of them."

The booklet says some foods often considered healthy are eaten by most people most days.

"Unfortunately these can be the very foods that are having a disguised yet disabling influence upon your health," it says.

Food sensitivity

Food intolerance and sensitivity can affect mood but there are also other complex relationships between eating patterns and mental health.

Neurotransmitters in the brain that affect how people think, feel and behave are influenced by what is eaten, for example.

milk bottles
Sensitivity to dairy products can affect mood
And deficiency in certain vitamins, minerals or fatty acids can have dramatic effects, such as the link between vitamin B deficiency and schizophrenia symptoms.

Interactions between food and certain medicines can also have an effect.

A popular type of antidepressant, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, can interact with a substance called tyramine found in foods such as cheese, beans and yeast extract causing dangerously high blood pressure.

The guide suggests that the best way to make changes to eating habits to improve mental health is with the help of a nutritional therapist.

However, people can make changes themselves by gradually eliminating particular products one at a time.

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13 Oct 99 | Health
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