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03 March 2024

‘UAE psychiatrist highlights research linking junk food and depression’

Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid Photo: Supplied

By Staff

The impact of fast food on people’s waistlines and physical health is well understood, but a poor diet can also lead to depression and other mental health problems, a leading psychiatrist at The Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai has warned.

In contrast, recently published research has revealed that a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, lean meat and olive oil, can actually improve the mental health of adults living with depression and be a more effective treatment than social support.

Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid says: “Every day in the UAE we see more and more fast food outlets opening, while takeaway meals and eating-out have become a way of life for many people. The potential issues this is creating for people’s long-term physical health is well documented, but it also threatens to create a mental health time-bomb unless we educate and encourage people to eat balanced diets.”

In one of the first trials of its kind, research published in Nutritional Neuroscience,  an International Journal on Nutrition, Diet and the Nervous System, found that healthy dietary changes can help avoid developing depression and improve the symptoms of those already living with the condition.

Previously, the benefits of a Mediterranean diet were linked solely with physical health, such as protecting against coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Interestingly, there is no evidence that depression itself causes a poor diet.

“This important research exposes just how far-reaching the effects of a poor diet are,” adds Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid. “Until now there was no proven link between high levels of processed fast foods, sugar and trans-fats and significant levels of depression and anxiety.”
World Health Organisation statistics show that gulf countries have among the highest rates of obesity in the world. As a result, Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid supports the need to consider dietary counselling alongside psychotherapy in the treatment and prevention of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“In my experience, some patients living with depression have a tendency to opt for ready-made and fast foods. Switching to a healthy diet can also have a positive effect on self-esteem. The psychological benefit of boosting self-esteem can supplement the physical benefit of a healthy diet, by strengthening the brain and therefore improving mental health.”

To optimise mental health, the research also highlighted the benefits of foods which are nutrient dense in omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, Thiamine, Folate, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, magnesium and iron. In addition, foods such as pistachios, garlic, sweet potatoes and salmon are proven to promote a healthy gut – crucial for boosting levels of serotonin, the ‘happy’ chemical in the brain.

Seeking early help and support for anxiety or depression is proven to result in less long-term suffering. The Priory’s Wellbeing Centre offers fast access to mental health experts. For further details on how Priory can help, call 04 245 3800 or visit priorygroup.ae.