Previous research conducted by the authors of the present study established an association between diet quality and mood which suggests that, for all people, diet quality improves mental health. However, the present study evaluated whether customization of diet improves mood among men and women ages 30 or older.
The authors of the study dissected the different food groups in terms of their association with mental distress in 1,209 men and women above the age of 30, as well as specific dietary patterns in relation to exercise frequency and mental distress. Mental distress was positively correlated with fast food and high glycemic index (HGI) foods.
After identifying which types of foods were most closely linked to mental distress, the results suggest that women’s mental health on the whole is more heavily influenced by dietary factors. Exercise and other lifestyle patters were able to improve mental wellbeing across both men and women, meaning that any gender and age group could benefit by addressing these modifiable risk factors.
“We found a general relationship between eating healthy, following healthy dietary practices, exercise, and mental wellbeing,” lead author Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, said. “Interestingly, we found that for unhealthy dietary patterns, the level of mental distress was higher in women than in men, which confirmed that women are more susceptible to unhealthy eating than men.”
Diet and exercise may be the first line of defense against mental distress in women, Begdache said.
“Fast food, skipping breakfast, caffeine and high-glycemic food are all associated with mental distress in mature women,” Begdache said. “Fruits and dark green leafy vegetables are associated with mental wellbeing. The extra information we learned from this study is that exercise significantly reduced the negative association of HG food and fast food with mental distress.”
She added that the research provides the framework needed for healthcare professionals to customize dietary and lifestyle plans to improve mental wellbeing for mature adults. The researchers are also conducting a parallel study with young men and women, looking at diet quality, sleep, and seasonal change variables from a longitudinal perspective.