In 1946 the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity” (1).
To achieve optimal mental health we therefore have to not only avoid mental health problems which 1 in 6 people in the UK experience every week (2), but also achieve our own mental well-being potential. However, if there are foods which can help you achieve better mental health, then surely everyone would eat them? Yes, and no. While a quick Google search can reveal many foods which improve mental health, it can be difficult to incorporate them into your diet and combine them with other healthy foods.
Our 4-week RYH meal plan solves this issue. We will tell you not only which foods to avoid, and how to replace them with healthier options, but also generate a meal plan which contains all of these foods with delicious recipes and an easy-to-use shopping list making it easier than ever for you to improve your mental health.
Lower your intake of Arachidonic Acid
The polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) is broken down into a multitude of inflammatory compounds in the body (3). While inflammation is beneficial to fight off infections, when it becomes chronic it can upset the internal balance of your body (3). In fact, a 2008 review of the cancer literature predicts that chronic inflammation contributes to 15-20% of all cancer deaths (4), as well as playing a role in depression (5). If that isn’t enough evidence, the fact that ibuprofen and aspirin lower inflammation, pain and swelling through preventing the conversion of AA into inflammatory compounds provides evidence for a causal link. There is hence a compelling reason to lower our AA intake. AA is non-essential in the diet meaning that our bodies produce all the AA we need. The top sources (in an American diet) are (6):
This list illustrates that it is primarily animal products which contain the potentially harmful AA. Research has revealed that AA intake is about nine times greater in omnivores than in plant-based diets (3). Therefore, why not give the RYH meal plan a try and select one of our plant-based options where the protein lost from the animal products is replaced with healthy legumes!
Avoid processed foods
A dietary pattern high in processed foods has been found to be a risk factor for depression (7), so you should try and avoid:
- Sweetened desserts
- Fried food
- Processed meat
- Refined grains
- High-fat dairy products
Higher consumption of whole food plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, meanwhile, may lower the risk of developing depression by around 60% (8).
Several reasons for the protective effect of fruit and vegetables have been proposed. For instance, fruit and vegetables are high in antioxidants such as vitamin C, E and carotenoid compounds (which give yellow and red plants their colour). Antioxidants protect against oxidative DNA damage caused by free radicals – unstable molecules which are formed as a by-product during metabolism and found mainly in animal products (9). Furthermore, fruit and vegetables contain large amounts of dietary fibre which has a positive effect on our gut microbiota and thereby improves mental health (9).
Additionally, fruit and vegetables can reduce the inflammation which compounds such as arachidonic acid, for instance, may cause (9). How much fruit and vegetables should you eat? In a paper humorously titled “Many apples a day keep the blues away” it is outlined that, as per the best evidence currently available, one should aim for about eight servings of vegetables or seven servings of fruit a day (10). This is significantly higher than the five-a-day proposed by the NHS (11), however, with an average of 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day (12), the RYH meal plan can help you easily achieve this nutritional target!
Eat well to help your mental health
In conclusion, a large proportion of the UK population is affected by mental health problems and even those not suffering from any conditions could improve their mental health further.
Chronic inflammation poses a threat to physical and mental well-being. A diet low on arachidonic acid and high in plant-based whole foods can reduce and prevent inflammation. Whole food plant-based foods have further neuroprotective effects through their high antioxidant contents and the gut-brain axis. Our RYH meal plan completely eliminates processed foods which could harm your mental well-being and replaces them with protective whole foods. You can furthermore choose our plant-based option or selectively exclude dairy or egg products! You can read more about the effect of the gut on mental health and how to incorporate foods which boost our happiness hormone serotonin in this article.
(1): Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19–22 June 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
(2): Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014. (2020). Retrieved 24 June 2020, from https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20180328140249/http://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748
(3): Beezhold, B., Johnston, C., & Daigle, D. (2010). Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: A cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults. Nutrition Journal, 9(1), 26.
(4): Alberto Mantovani, Paola Allavena, Antonio Sica, & Frances Balkwill. (2008). Cancer-related inflammation. Nature, 454(7203), 436-44.
(5) Andrew H. Miller, & Charles L. Raison. (2015). The role of inflammation in depression: From evolutionary imperative to modern treatment target. Nature Reviews Immunology, 16(1), 22-34.
(6): Top Food Sources of Dietary Components | EGRP/DCCPS/NCI/NIH. (2020). Retrieved 24 June 2020, from https://epi.grants.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/
(7): Akbaraly TN, Brunner EJ, Ferrie JE et al. (2009) Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. Br J Psychiatry 195, 408–413.
(8): Tsai, A., Chang, T., & Chi, S. (2012). Frequent consumption of vegetables predicts lower risk of depression in older Taiwanese – results of a prospective population-based study. Public Health Nutrition, 15(6), 1087-1092.
(9): Cheng, H., Shi, Y., Yu, F., Zhao, H., Zhang, J., & Song, M. (2019). Association between vegetables and fruits consumption and depressive symptoms in a middle-aged Chinese population: An observational study. Medicine, 98(18), E15374.
(10): White, B., Horwath, C., & Conner, T. (2013). Many apples a day keep the blues away – Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18(4), 782-798.
(11): 5 A Day: what counts?. (2018). Retrieved 24 June 2020, from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/5-a-day-what-counts/
(12): Gut Health FAQs – Reset Your Health | Advice tips and more. (2020). Retrieved 24 June 2020, from https://resetyourhealth.com/faq/