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Nutritional psychiatry and the food-mood connection, with Kimberley Wilson

4 min read
AUTHOR: Ross Carver-Carter

If you’ve ever witnessed a child after a sugar overload, you’ll know that food can have a major impact on mood. And yet, the older we get, the more we overlook the connection between nutrition and emotional wellbeing.

Even in primary care, healthcare providers often under-appreciate the role of nutrition in treating mood disorders such as depression. As Kimberley Wilson, chartered psychologist, author and BBC journalist, notes:

“Mental health disorders are overwhelmingly treated as ‘mind’ problems as if the physical brain – and how we feed it – is irrelevant.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our emotional wellbeing is closely tied to brain function, and like any organ, it runs on the micro and macro nutrients we obtain through our diet.

Research consistently shows that traditional eating patterns – high in plant-based fibre, legumes and whole-grains – are associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety and other conditions.

Parallel to this, the so-called ‘Western diet’ – high in saturated fats and ultra-processed food – is linked to poorer health outcomes and higher incidences of mood disorders.

The following podcasts and articles outline the important connections between nutrition and emotional wellbeing, exploring the ways that what we eat affects how we feel.

Podcast: You are what you eat – the link between nutrition and stress

The Food Matters Live podcast welcomes Jackie Lynch, an award-winning nutritionist who specialises in women’s health and the menopause.

Jackie discusses the impact of low-carbohydrate diets on mood, how nutrient deficiencies can trigger emotional changes and explains why wellbeing – both mental and physical – starts in the gut. Drawing on her clinical expertise, she also offers dietary tips for women undergoing the menopause.

Key highlight

“We now know that the gut microbiome, the beneficial bacteria in our gut, feeds and promotes the synthesis of serotonin AKA the happy hormone.”

– Jackie Lynch, Registered Nutritionist and founder of the WellWellWell clinic

Podcast: Can processed food affect your mental health?

brain-shaped candy on lilac background

In the United States, 60% of nutritional intake comes from ultra-processed foods – products that have undergone extensive changes and bare little resemblance to natural whole foods.

Whilst the research is nascent, nutritional studies show strong correlations between a high consumption of ultra-processed foods and poorer health outcomes – both mental and physical.

In her latest book, Unprocessed, Kimberley Wilson pinpoints the proliferation of ultra-processed foods as a driving factor behind the mental health crisis – suggesting quality nutrition as an important part of the solution.

We sat down with Kimberley to investigate the impact of ultra-processed foods on brain development and in turn, our emotional wellbeing.

In this fascinating episode, we explore the link between nutrient deficiencies and mental health outcomes, how refined sugars impact children’s behaviour, and discuss what we can do to encourage better nutrition among young people.

Key highlight

“The higher the proportion of ultra-processed foods in your diet, the lower your intake of vitamins A, B, three, six and 12, C, D, E, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and omega three fatty acids. So really, what we’re looking at is a broad scale nutrient deficiency, because of the proportion of these foods in our diets.”

– Kimberley Wilson, Chartered Psychologist, author and former Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Training Committee

Article: How nutrition can support mental health: what to eat, what to avoid, and the truth about good mood food

Mediterranean food being served on a table

In this feature, author and environmental journalist Anna Turns delves into the complex and bi-directional link between mood and nutrition.

Featuring comments from Sophie Medlin, Chair for the British Dietetic Association, she looks at how blood sugar levels, gut microbiome diversity and inflammation affect emotional wellbeing – and the role of diet in managing all three.

In particular, the article surveys the growing body of research suggesting that traditional eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet can help prevent and manage mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

How does our gut and brain communicate? Which diet is best for mental and physical health? Can the food we eat affect our hormonal health? Find out the answers to these questions and more.

Key highlight

“Your overall diet and the way that you’re eating is going to have an impact on your medium and long-term brain health and function.” 

– Sophie Medlin, Consultant Dietitian, Director of CityDietitians and Chair for the British Dietetic Association for London.

Explore research developments, market trends and ingredient innovation across nutrition in our upcoming Inspiring Nutrition Guide, launching June 2023.