British study reveals diet full of vegetables, fruits and fish can protect your mental health

A study from Britain concluded eating whole foods can help your mental health.

The 2009 study, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, examined two different diets, whole and processed, and how those diets were associated with rates of depression.

Whole foods included vegetables, fruits and fish while processed food included refined grains, high fat dairy products and fried foods.

After analyzing 3,486 participants and their diet, researchers found that people in the highest percentile of a whole food pattern had lower odds of depression than those in the lowest percentile. The study also suggested that a high intake of processed food was associated with increased odds of depression.

“Consumption of fruits, vegetables and fish affords protection against the onset of depressive symptoms five years later,” wrote the researchers, adding “a diet rich in processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products increases vulnerability.”

Inside a Calgary health food store

Rachel Smith works full time at Community Natural Foods store and is also a vegetarian and whole foods eater because she believes it positively impacts her health.

Photo by Kelsey SimpsonTo delve further into the “whole foods” lifestyle, the Journal ventured into one of Calgary’s more well-known health food stores, Community Natural Foods, located across the street from the Chinook LRT station.

Eight-year vegetarian and store employee Rachel Smith says the key is to start simply.

“Start with an apple or orange for breakfast just to really simplify it.”

Smith gives tours throughout the store to help educate customers about eating well. She says some customers say they’re overwhelmed by the many choices, which is why she asks people to keep their goals reasonable.

“It can be as simple as replacing a sugary breakfast cereal with a piece of fruit.”

Calgary mother Jodi Alexander agrees with Smith and adds, “Just pick one thing and go from there. It can be a daunting path. It is truly a lifestyle change. So just pick one thing and go from there and keep adding on.”

Hayden and mom Jodi Alexander consume whole foods regularly.

Photo by Kelsey SimpsonAlexander, a regular health food store shopper, says she has been consciously watching her diet for the last five years and says there is a definite benefit to eating whole foods. The 30-year-old mom says not only does she benefit, but so does her young daughter, Hayden.

“There is definitely an effect 100 per cent. I can see it right away in her and I can feel it myself too. My cognitive function, skin, energy level — everything improves if I am eating clean. I feel good and happy and if I am not I am cranky and grumpy so it is pretty obvious for me that whole foods are great.”

Another shopper, Torben Belling, isn’t surprised by the study results that suggest whole foods can help ward off depression. Belling, who is in his late 60s, says he and his wife started eating whole foods 15 years ago.

“They absolutely affect my moods and my health,” he says.

Even though Belling is committed to the whole foods lifestyle, he admits he likes to cheat from time to time, especially when it comes to potato chips, “I am as bad as the next guy.”

Although the study doesn’t point out why whole foods are good preventers of depression — Smith, Alexander and Belling all agree that whole foods can affect your health positively both physically and mentally and can be a stepping stone to leading a healthy and happier life.

ksimpson@cjournal.ca