Whilst it might not be a topic you have heard much about, emerging science is continually supporting a link between nutrition, mood and mental health. The studies are finding that better quality diets are consistently associated with reduced depression risk, while unhealthy dietary patterns (those higher in processed foods) are associated with increased depression and often anxiety. A lot of the existing studies come from observational studies but there are promising intervention studies backing up these hypotheses so we can really start to see how important nutrition can be in managing our mental health. Whilst there is no one approach that will work for everyone for mental health management, there is clear evidence to suggest that dietary intervention will be incredibly beneficial to work alongside other management options (eg. exercise, meditation, therapy, counselling, medication etc) and that we can expect to see more of this recommended in the future. When we look at how nutrition affects our mood and mental health there is no single pathway as many factors come into play. One pathway is via nutrient status and the simple fact that if deficiencies are present then improving one’s diet can reverse these deficiencies. Other pathways are through anti-inflammation effects. With chronic inflammation now being considered a precursor to most chronic diseases, including depression, the direct impact of diet on inflammation within the body (but also via our microbiome) is another key consideration towards the effects on mental health. The main area of research currently however is the pathway involving our microbiome and gut health. We have a network of communication nerves that connect the gut and the brain which is called the gut-brain axis. These nerves reach the area of the brain related to self-awareness, emotion, morality, fear, memory and motivation. Your gut and brain are also connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters. They act in the brain to control feelings and emotions (70-80% of these neurotransmitters are produced in the gut). So whilst research is still very much being done in this area, we know that improving one’s gut health should be a priority, not only for overall health, but particularly for mental health. Of course, the question you are probably wondering is what type of diet is best for supporting both gut and mental health? The Mediterranean dietary pattern is by far the most well researched diet and in fact was shown in a landmark study done right here in Australia (called The Smiles Trial), to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression. The Mediterranean dietary pattern focuses on wholefoods full of vitamins and minerals, fibre, polyphenols, healthy fats as well as pre and probiotic foods. The main staple foods include an abundance of fruits and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, yoghurt, kefir, herbs and spices. It includes moderate amounts of poultry, red wine and dairy and small amounts of red meat. The following recipes in this E-book highlight the wonderful wholefoods that make up the Mediterranean dietary pattern. I encourage you to focus on colours not calories and nutrients not nasties and to enjoy these recipes cooked to perfection with your Miele appliances and enjoyed with your loved ones. After all, the Mediterranean dietary pattern is also about connecting with others, daily movement, and growing your own food, all of which, combined with these recipes, will wonderfully support your gut and your mental health long term.