A new study looks for links between nutrition and mental well-being.
However, there is growing scientific evidence that dietary factors may also affect mental health.
For instance, studies have found associations between the Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of depression.
In contrast, there is some evidence that lower quality diets are linked to increased risk of depression. However, this association is still up for debate.
To investigate the role of the diet in mental health, researchers from Binghamton University and Stony Brook University, both in New York, conducted an online survey of more than 2,600 participants from North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Asia.
The survey spanned 5 years and included 1,147 young women, 628 mature women, 641 young men, and 207 mature men. For the purposes of the study, the researchers defined young as being between the ages of 18 and 29 years, while the mature participants were aged 30 years or over.
The study appears in the journal Nutrients.
Involvement in the survey was voluntary. All of the participants filled out a questionnaire after responding to a social media post advertising the study.
The scientists’ goal was to determine what foods and other factors, including exercise, geographical location, and time of year, were positively or negatively associated with mental health.
Young and mature women had a higher risk of mental distress during the spring season. The researchers also found negative mental health associations with high caffeine intake and moderate-to-high fast food consumption.
They also found that eating breakfast frequently and engaging in higher levels of exercise were linked to improved mental well-being among young women.
In contrast, for mature women, consuming breakfast frequently was linked to a higher rate of mental distress. However, as with young women, frequent exercise appeared to have a positive effect on well-being in mature women.
Additionally, mature women living in Asia or the MENA region reported more significant mental distress compared with those residing in North America.
Young men reported enhanced well-being in relation to frequent exercise, moderate consumption of dairy, and moderate-to-high meat intake. Conversely, high fast food and caffeine intake were both associated with poorer mental well-being.
As with mature women, mature men had a higher chance of mental distress if they lived in the MENA region. Higher education levels and moderate consumption of nuts were associated with positive mental health in mature men.
According to study coauthor Lina Begdache, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, scientists need to consider differences in brain maturity between young and mature adults.
She explains: “Young adults are still forming new connections between brain cells, as well as building structures; therefore, they need more energy and nutrients to do that.”
Taking age into consideration, she believes, will help us understand how diet and other factors play a role in mental health.