Nutrition, Diet, and Mood
We all know intuitively and from practical experience, that diet affects mood. But there is surprisingly little research on something that on the face of it seems so clear.
What does the science say about nutrition and mood?Observational studies suggest that several nutrition factors are associated with mood and cognition, including omega-3 fatty acid intake and vitamin B12, and that metabolic disorders resulting from lifestyle (including diet) like atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes are associated with reduced mood and increased rates of depression. (1)
Overall diet ‘quality’ is strongly associated with depression scores, (2) and diets of poor nutritional quality (i.e. high intakes of refined foods and low intakes of vegetables, fruits, and other unrefined foods) result in higher rates of mood disturbance. (3) In particular, vegetables, fruits, fat (especially saturated fat), and dietary variety, total water, fibre, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, and selenium intake are associated with higher mood, (4) as are diets higher in potassium and magnesium (which are often a ‘proxy’ for unrefined diets with higher vegetable intake). (5)
A recent systematic review concluded that DASH, vegetable-based, low-glycaemic index diets, and Ketogenic and Paleo diets could improve mood more than other diet types. (6)
There are, however, few randomised, controlled studies on the effects of dietary change and nutrition on mood. In one such study, a nutrient-dense Mediterranean diet was compared to habitual diets in young women. The dietary intervention resulted in significant improvements in vigour, alertness, and contentment. (7) Similar improvements were observed in a 10-day crossover trial of a Mediterranean diet in women, (8) and improved mood and depression resulted from an 8-week Mediterranean diet including dairy. (9) vigour and fatigue were also improved in a 10-day ad libitum vegan diet delivered to 16 non-vegetarians. (10)
In a comparison study of a low-fat diet and a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, mood was improved similarly between groups but symptoms of negative affect and hunger improved to a greater degree in patients following the ketogenic diet. (11) No significant difference in mood was found between those following a 3-day high-carbohydrate diet or a low-carbohydrate diet following an exhaustive glycogen depletion exercise protocol. (12) In another calorie restricted study comparing a low-carbohydrate and low-fat intervention, overall mood, depression, and anxiety scores were improved markedly by both diets at week-8 but over twelve-months, the low-carbohydrate group had worse depression, mood, and anxiety scores than the low-fat group but these were still improved compared to baseline. (13) Interestingly, a very-low-calorie diet of 400 kcal per day, rising to 1200 kcal per day compared to a standard calorie-reduced diet of 1200 kcal, both groups improved mood similarly. (14) While in another low-calorie diet study, a slight reduction in depression scores was observed. (15)
ConclusionOverall, practically any change in diet and particularly any change to a diet that is of better overall quality, with greater intakes of unrefined (natural, whole, less-processed foods) improves mood, irrespective of the diet and any differences between individual diets are small.
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