The link between a bad diet and mental ill heath should become more of a priority for researchers, a report has urged.
A poor diet is increasingly being linked with depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental health problems, said the report co-written by the Mental Health Foundation and Sustain, an organisation promoting good quality farming.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the foundation, said policy makers would be “foolish” to underestimate the importance of how a nutritionally-deficient diet is being linked to mental illness.
The report states, for example, that saturated fats – the consumption of which has been increasing with the boom in ready meals – acts to slow down the brain’s working process.
People are also eating 34% less vegetables and two-thirds less fish – the main source of important omega-3 fatty acids – than they were 50 years ago.
The report, entitled Feeding Minds, was based on a a review of both peer-reviewed journals and non-reviewed literature, the internet, and conferences.
A UK-wide eating habits opinion poll survey of 2122 adults was also conducted.
The report lists nutrients considered good for the brain.
Dr McCulloch said: “We know that dietary interventions may hold the key to a number of the mental health challenges our society is facing.
“Yet we rarely invest in developing this knowledge, and a relatively tiny – but growing – number of professionals are putting it to effective use.”
Rebecca Foster, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, recommended caution.
She told bbc.co.uk: “The evidence associating mental health and nutrient intake is in its infancy, this is a very difficult association to research and in many cases results are subjective.
“Therefore, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the association between mental illness and dietary intake at this point.
“However, the nutrient recommendations outlined in this report are in line with recommendations for good health, which should continue to be advocated by all health professionals.”