A recipe for madness?
The standard advice to “just eat a healthy balanced diet” is at least half a century out of date. What exactly is it that we are supposed to balance? Should we mix’n’match different pesticide residues in our food or change our preferred brand of flavoured crisps? The processed convenience food we now eat contain additives and chemicals, and even the most sophisticated computer can’t calculate whether consumers are affected by their long-term cumulative effects.
Even if we shop at the fresh vegetable section, we are not risk-free. Our produce has suffered heavy mineral losses. Over a 51 year period between 1940 and 1991, vegetables, on average, have lost about half their calcium content and a quarter of their iron and magnesium content, with even greater losses for zinc. It is well accepted that mineral deficiencies can have a profound impact on our mental and emotional health.
Our diet is no longer ‘compatible’ with that of our ancestors. Hunter-gatherers depended on whole, fresh and unrefined ‘brain food’: plenty of different fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and some oily fish and lean meat. Now, our bodies have to cope with a high glycaemic load from sugars and refined grain products, high sodium, a lack of omega-3 fats, an overload of damaged fats and many other factors. These dietary characteristics provide our bodies with the wrong information and are literally a recipe for ‘madness’.
We should be under no illusion, however, that a healthy diet alone will cure all mental ills. A well-functioning digestive tract and healthy gut flora are required to break down and absorb nutrients, and efficiently dispose of pathogens or toxic substances. Our immune system is important, too – inflammatory responses to a psychological factor like stress, or a physical threat in form of a virus or bacteria, may affect some people and lead to prolonged bouts of depression.
The reasons behind our current crisis in mental health are complex, so over the past year, I have asked leading nutrition practitioners to contribute to a book explaining the science behind nutrition and its effects on mental health. They provide their own valuable insights and nutritional strategies in a clear and accessible way. This is a useful and fully referenced resource for all healthcare professionals and anyone experiencing mental health problems.
Martina’s latest book, ‘Nutritional and Mental Health: a handbook’ offers an up-to-date guide to the relationship between diet and mental health and looks at the link between diet and nutrition and mental and emotional health.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus September 2008