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Eating processed foods with little nutritional value may damage both your mental and physical health, new research shows.

This doesn’t surprise me and is something I’ve written about before. In 2010, a study published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition showed people who often ate hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza are 51 per cent more likely to develop depression than those who rarely or never ate them.

The new research from Canterbury University in New Zealand has shown that eating more fresh foods consistent with a Mediterranean-style diet, and eating less processed foods, could reverse spiralling rates of conditions such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression.

Psychologist Julia Rucklidge, from the university, says the decreasing nutritional value of our food may be contributing to an “epidemic” of mental illness, with one in every eight adults in New Zealand now on anti-depressants.

“Many didn’t believe there was a possibility that nutrition can influence your mental health”

“Many didn’t believe there was a possibility that nutrition can influence your mental health,” she said, adding that, when she first started using vitamins and minerals to treat mental illness, people were “completely uninterested”.

Rucklidge has conducted a randomised controlled trial of adults with ADHD which found that 64 per cent of those who received extra vitamins and minerals showed significantly fewer ADHD symptoms after eight weeks, compared with 37 per cent of those who received an inactive placebo.

She also studied 91 people from Christchurch with high stress levels immediately after the February 2011 earthquake. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder dropped from 65 per cent to 19 per cent among those who received extra vitamins and minerals, compared with a slight increase from 44 per cent to 48 per cent of a control group that did not get the supplements.

Modern diet is NOT meeting our nutritional needs

Rucklidge says the shift from natural wholefoods to packaged processed foods and takeaways has likely played a vital role in the increasing rates of mental illness.

“Our diet has changed so rapidly over 50 years that it’s hard not to believe that it’s having some impact on our mental health,” she said.

“My work shows that, because we show an impact of using vitamins and minerals on mental health, it simply proves the point that the diet these people are eating is simply not adequately meeting their nutritional needs.”

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