The diets linked to mental health change over the lifetime, new research finds.
The mood of young people — aged between 18 and 30 — benefits from neurotransmitter precursors provided by foods like meat.
Meat — whether red or white — increases the build-up of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which both help to boost mood.
However, for those over 30 a different pattern emerged.
Mature adults were in a better mood if they ate foods that boosted their antioxidant levels, such as fruit.
Mature adults were also in a better mood if they avoided things activated the sympathetic nervous system, such as coffee and skipping breakfast.
Dr Lina Begdache, the study’s first author, said:
“One of the major findings of this paper is that diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus mature adults.
Another noteworthy finding is that young adult mood appears to be sensitive to build-up of brain chemicals.
Regular consumption of meat leads to build-up of two brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) known to promote mood.
Regular exercise leads to build-up of these and other neurotransmitters as well.
In other words, young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress.”
The study involved a survey that was completed by people around the world.
Dr Begdache explained the findings for adults:
“Conversely, mature adult mood seems to be more sensitive to regular consumption of sources of antioxidants and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the innate fight-or-flight response (commonly known as the stress response).
With aging, there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants), so our need for antioxidants increases. Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress.
Also, our ability to regulate stress decreases, so if we consume food that activates the stress response (such as coffee and too much carbohydrates), we are more likely to experience mental distress.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience (Begdache et al., 2017).