Diet’s role in mental well-being more pronounced in women, new research concludes

The relationship between mental health and diet has long been established; but something that has intrigued researchers for years is whether this is associated with the higher incidence of mental distress in women than in men. A recent study by researchers from Binghamton University, which was published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, revealed that diet does play a bigger role in maintaining mental well-being in women.

The researchers surveyed 563 participants, 48 percent of which were men while the rest were women, to determine the relationship between dietary patterns and mental distress with regards to gender. Analyses of their data revealed that men experienced mental well-being until they suffered from nutritional deficiencies. Meanwhile, women did not feel mental well-being unless they followed a healthy diet.

The team attributed these results to potential effects of diet on the limbic system, which is the part of the brain responsible for emotions, learning, and memory. For women, they believed that regulation of the limbic system was only possible given a broader spectrum of nutrients that are not always present in the typical diet.

“These findings may explain the reason why women are twice more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression and suffer from longer episodes, compared to men. Today’s diet is high in energy but poor in key nutrients that support brain anatomy and functionality,” said Dr. Lina Begdache, an assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University and the lead author of the study.

Overall, the results of their study show that women should be more strict in following healthy diets for them to experience mental well-being. (Related: Nutrition’s role in mental health: Research shows a healthy diet promotes psychological well-being.)

Diets that improve mental health

Although the effects of diet on mental health are higher for women, men can still benefit from following a healthier diet. There are various types of diets that have gained popularity over the years so choosing the most appropriate one might be a bit confusing. Fortunately, previous studies have already established that the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are the best when it comes to improving mental health.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet focuses on increasing a person’s intake of healthy fatty acids like omega-3. Previous studies have shown that people who followed this diet had significant improvements in depression and anxiety, especially if it was strictly followed. Some of the foods that should be included in the Mediterranean diet are the following:

  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fatty fishes like salmon and albacore tuna
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil

DASH diet

As its name implies, the main goal of the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet is meant o improve blood pressure levels and cardiovascular health. However, studies have revealed that people who follow this diet also improve their mental health. This is because the DASH diet is low in sugar, which has been shown increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety by up to 23 percent. If you want to try out the DASH diet, then you should follow these guidelines:

  • Increase intake of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
  • Eat more chicken, fish, and nuts
  • Convert to low-fat or nonfat dairy products
  • Reduce your consumption of sweets, sugary drinks, saturated fats, sodium, and alcohol

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