Women’s mental health has higher association with dietary factors

A new study from Binghamton University shows that women’s mental health is more likely to be linked to dietary factors than it is to men.

Lena Begdash, associate professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, published previous research on diet and mood suggesting that a high-quality diet improves mental health. She wanted to test whether customizing the diet improved mood among men and women aged 30 or older.

Together with research assistant Kara M. Patrici, Begdash dissected the different food groups associated with mental distress in men and women aged 30 years and over, as well as examining different dietary patterns in relation to exercise frequency and mental distress. The results indicate that women’s mental health is more closely related to dietary factors than it is to men. Mental distress and exercise frequency have been associated with different diet and lifestyle patterns, supporting the concept of customizing diet and lifestyle factors to improve mental health.

“We found a general relationship between healthy eating, following healthy dietary practices, exercise, and mental wellness,” Begdash said. “Interestingly, we found that for unhealthy dietary patterns, the level of mental disorder was higher in women than in men, which confirmed that women are more likely to eat unhealthy than men.”
Based on this study and others, diet and exercise may be the first line of defense against mental disorders in mature women, Begdash said.

“Junk food, skipping breakfast, caffeine, and high glycemic (HG) foods are all associated with mental distress in mature women,” Begdash said. Dark green leafy fruits and vegetables (DGLV) are associated with mental health. Additional information we learned from this study is that exercise significantly reduced the negative association between HG food and fast food with psychological distress.”

This research provides the framework for healthcare professionals to customize nutritional plans to enhance exercise and improve mental health in mature adults, Begdash said. It could also provide a new perspective for the research community when evaluating the role of diet in mental disorder.

The researchers are conducting a parallel study with young men and women, looking at diet quality as well as sleep variables and seasonal change from a longitudinal perspective.

The paper, “Diet customization may enhance exercise and improve mental health in adults: Role of exercise as a mediator,” was published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine.

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