Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Jun 28, 2019 in Nutrition
If you visit a psychiatrist one day in the not-too-distant future, you may be surprised to find that you are given dietary advice.
That doesn’t mean you won’t be given counselling, and medication where necessary, but it reflects a growing awareness about the importance of nutrition for good mental health.
In fact, some psychiatrists are already doing this, like Dr Drew Ramsey in the US, who regularly prescribes his clients a diet high in fresh, nutritious food and low in highly processed food.
Research on links between diet or nutrition and mental health has steadily grown over the past decade or so. This comes from a combination of studies investigating single nutrients and whole diets.
A whole array of nutrients is essential for brain function. Accordingly, research has found that supplementing with nutrients such as vitamins B and D, omega-3, zinc, and magnesium can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Vitamin B and omega-3 may also help alleviate cognitive decline and dementia with aging.
But, although nutritional supplements may be necessary at times, we don’t eat nutrients, we eat whole food. Importantly, interactions between nutrients play important roles in brain function.
Fibre is also critical as it helps to facilitate healthy gut bacteria. This is increasingly recognised as being critical for reducing systemic inflammation and maintaining healthy brain function.
Population studies have consistently shown links between unhealthy diets and higher levels of depression and anxiety, and conversely between healthy diets and better mental health.
It might be said that people who are anxious or depressed eat more poorly, but longitudinal studies also found that people who ate poorly were more likely to develop mental health problems over time.
Other research has shown that people who have higher inflammatory markers in their blood – which underlie a range of chronic diseases – are more likely to become mentally ill.
And diet is a key contributor to low-lying inflammation.
More recently, two randomised controlled trials have confirmed what population research has found. Both were conducted in Australia independently finding that diet substantially reduced depressive symptoms in people suffering major depression.
The quick answer: a diet high in fresh food and low in processed food. Like Michael Pollan famously said: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
The traditional Mediterranean diet is high in plant foods – including fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, and includes generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil for salads and cooking (it has a high smoke point so is safe for cooking over moderate heat).
It contains moderate amounts of fish, dairy, and red wine with meals, and little or no meat, highly processed foods and confectionary.
There is endless scope to experiment with this type of diet, which is deceptively simple, tasty, and cheap.
And you never know, healthy food prescriptions might be subsidised by Medicare one day – US researchers have predicted that subsidising 30% of the cost of healthy foods could prevent nearly two million heart attacks, prevent 350,000 deaths and save $100 billion in health care costs.
Given that physical health and mental wellbeing are intimately related, this remedy be just what the psychiatrist ordered.
While multitudes of people around the world face food insecurity, a whopping third of food is lost or wasted. This equates to more than a billion tonnes of food valued at nearly $940 billion every year.
Australia is a part of the problem: five million tonnes of food reach landfill annually, which would fill 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools, according to OzHarvest. This comes at no small cost – wasted food costs the Australian economy around $20 billion a year.
Apart from the financial cost, food waste impacts the environment. Precious resources such as water and energy are used to grow, transport and sell food. And every tonne of food that ends up in landfill results in 750kg of carbon dioxide being released into an already overloaded atmosphere.
Every business, school and household needs to pull their weight to address the problem. But health care facilities face unique challenges in dealing with their contribution.
Food surplus accounts for half of all waste generated by the health system, squandering resources, labour and finances.
In 2015, an Australian audit found that 200 grams of food was wasted, on average, per bed each day in hospitals and aged care facilities. Most of this came from uneaten food on patient trays. Other sources are hospital kitchens and cafeterias, according to a US survey.
In hospitals, food service revolves around health care procedures, generating several different routes for food waste. These include bulk cooking, long delays between ordering and serving, and missed meals due to hospital procedures, fasting, test scheduling, and patients being checked out.
Patients and older adults are more likely to have poor appetite and treatments and conditions that limit eating through symptoms like pain and nausea.
Palatability of hospital food is a key issue, as well as packaged food that is unopened and thrown away or half-eaten – which also contributes to plastic pollution.
These issues not only have implications for food waste, but also for patients’ nutrition intake.
Methods for serving patient meals have not changed in 30 years. Improved technologies offer several ways in which the issue of food waste – and associated problems like surplus food costs and malnutrition – can be addressed.
A study by HealthShare NSW reformed hospital food delivery using improved workflow processes and menus, staff training and technology. The project aimed to decrease the time lag between ordering and getting meals to four hours or less, improve food quality and nutrition and increase patient choice.
As a result, improvements were made at various stages of the process, reducing patient food waste by half. Patients’ food intake also increased considerably.
Other health care facilities have switched to a room service model for feeding patients. This personalised approach results in better patient satisfaction, in turn improving nutrition intake and reducing food waste.
Melbourne’s health department joined other organisations to trial recycling organics, finding it a viable way to divert wasted food from landfill.
In all, combining streamlined technologies and procedures for storing, ordering, delivering and disposing of food with improved patient choice, food quality and dining environments can improve nutrition intake and reduce food waste – a win-win on all counts.