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Can eating right affect your mental stability? Research suggests that what we eat may affect not just our physical health, but also our mental health and wellbeing. With so many people affected by mental health issues, it’s increasingly important to eat enough of the right foods to ensure good mental health.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, one in three people will experience mental illness in their lifetime and 23 people commit suicide every day. Clearly, mental stability is a pressing issue. And, we should therefore investigate ways of dealing with the challenges facing parents and children.

So, is there a link between nutrition and mental stability?

A meta-analysis including studies from 10 countries, conducted by researchers at Linyi People’s Hospital in Shandong, China, suggests that dietary patterns may contribute to depression.

In a study of 120 children and adolescents, consuming fast food, sugar and soft drinks was associated with a higher prevalence of diagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study, conducted by the University of Barcelona’s department of nutrition, food science and gastronomy, also found that children who ate fewer vegetables, fruit, fatty fish and other foods associated with the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have ADHD symptoms.

Evidence shows that food plays an important role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems.

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While it’s okay to have the occasional drink, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. Excessive drinking also depletes serotonin (the happy chemical), leading to an individual becoming prone to anxiety and depression. Caffeinated beverages also increase the risk for anxiety, depression and poor sleep.


Correcting blood sugar problems may be a relevant nutritional approach. Addressing essential fat imbalances, increasing antioxidants, B12 and folic acid may also assist. A sensitivity to gluten, especially wheat, can bring on many symptoms of mental illness.


Certain food additives have been implicated in behavioural problems, particularly in hyperactive children. Foods rich in protein can have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms. The body uses protein-rich foods to make neurotransmitters – the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Protein-rich foods that will help include lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products. In addition, protein can prevent surges in blood sugar, which increase hyperactivity.

Alzheimer’s and dementia

Foods that protect against Alzheimer’s include green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.

“Nutritionists have long recognised the link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies. However, psychiatrists are increasingly becoming aware of the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health.

Evidence shows that food plays an important role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.