A recent article in the TES has got us thinking about how our mental health is affected by the food we eat. We know that eating processed food that is high in salt and sugar and lacking in nutrients is bad for our physical health, but could it also be detrimental to our mental wellbeing?
Caring Cooks is dedicated to improving the wellbeing of young people in Jersey, and as such, our interest lies primarily in the health of children. With as many as 1 in 5 young people experiencing mental health problems, and suicide being the most common cause of deaths in the under 35s, we need to understand how to support these young people who are experiencing mental health difficulties. Is this a problem that could be tackled in the same way as obesity?
Studies certainly suggest that eating the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, as well as unprocessed whole grains can help to reduce the effects of depression, in contrast to a diet lacking in fruit and veg and consisting mainly of processed food. Research also indicates that children who have a good diet experience higher self esteem and have fewer emotional problems. Science seems a little unsure exactly why this is the case – it could be a direct result of consuming the important vitamins or minerals or be a causal effect of better sleep and a body that is working optimally.
Either way, it seems that a good diet is key to good mental health. However, sharing this information does not necessarily lead to behaviour change. If families and young people are unable to afford fresh fruit and veg, as is the case for 44% respondents in the recent Jersey Lifestyle Survey then they are unlikely to consume it. A further 14% of respondents stated that they didn’t feel they had the skills they needed to cook from scratch and 11% wouldn’t know what to cook to make a healthy meal.
Here at Caring Cooks we are fans of the old adage “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. We know it is important to give people the information they need to understand how to be healthy, but without the skills to help themselves, they are unlikely to succeed. That is why we use our programmes to educate and inspire young people to learn basic skills. They begin to understand how food is grown in our kitchen gardens, how to perform simple cooking techniques in our Let’s Get Cooking programme and learn how to enjoy a wide variety of nutritious food in a communal environment thanks to our school lunch programme, Flourish.
If eating well is the key to tackling mental health problems then we feel confident that our work can go some way to preventing poor mental health in the future.