News / South Africa / Health

Grace Mantjiu
2 minute read
10 Aug 2018
3:43 pm

How food affects your mental health

Grace Mantjiu

It’s important to know what to eat or drink when dealing with mental illness.

Picture: iStock

A meta-analysis including studies from 10 countries, conducted by researchers at Linyi People’s Hospital in China suggests that dietary patterns may contribute to mental health and behavioural conditions.

Consuming fast food, sugar and soft drinks was associated with a higher prevalence of diagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It was also discovered that children who ate fewer vegetables, fruit, fatty fish and other foods associated with the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have ADHD symptoms.

Evidence shows that food plays an important role in the development, management and prevention of some mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Picture: iStock

It is important to remember that like any chronic illnesses, mental health must be treated by a registered health professional.


Although the occasional drink is harmless, everyone should limit their alcoholic intake. Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with anxiety and panic attacks because alcohol acts as a depressant.

Excessive drinking also depletes serotonin, which can make some people prone to anxiety and depression. Caffeinated beverages can also exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

Picture Thinkstock

Whisky. Picture Thinkstock


Correcting blood sugar problems may be a relevant nutritional approach. Addressing essential fat imbalances, increasing antioxidants, B12 and folic acid may also assist.

Some people with mental health problems are sensitive to gluten, especially wheat gluten, which can bring on all sorts of symptoms of mental illness.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Some food additives such as Tartrazine and annatto have been implicated in behavioural problems particularly in hyperactive children.

Foods rich in protein such as lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products can have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms.

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