There is a constant barrage of advice from the media that healthy diet is critical for our physical health. However, recent research has found that diet and exercise does not only affects our physical health, but may also improve our mental health. For example, a recent study (performed here at the Food & Mood Centre) found that eating a healthy diet could relieve symptoms of depression.
But what if you feel physically fit and mentally well? Can a healthy diet help you too?
What if, eating healthy might not only be a helpful tool to improve your physical and mental health but also your quality of life in general? Even though, these three concepts are related, quality of life goes beyond physical and mental health.
Intuitively, you might already have a good idea what quality of life is. However, the concept of quality of life is quite elusive, and there is no one set definition in science to describe this concept. But to keep it simple, it is about the general wellbeing of individuals and is measured by several aspects, such as relationships, self-worth, pain and happiness. Quality of life goes beyond the absences of physical and mental disorders. It looks at your physical, emotional, social wellbeing and your perception of your position in life. Therefore, two people could, for example, be affected by the same disease but have completely opposite quality of life scores based on their perception.
So in principle, you could have no physical or psychological disorders, but still have a lower quality of life than someone who does. And of course, we at the Food & Mood Centre wonder if diet could help you out with that?
Looking into the literature, methods to improve quality of life have become a prominent goal of researchers. We were delighted to already find so many articles about how a healthy diet positively affected the quality of life in patients with cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other physical disorders. Unfortunately, so far we could not find a study looking at whether diet quality positively affects the quality of life in adults without any physical impairment. We did, however, find research showing that diet and quality of life are associated in children, adolescents and the elderly. This might be a good indicator that we will find similar patterns in healthy adults. Furthermore, previous studies have associated that by just increasing fruit and vegetable intake in adults, resulted in improved wellbeing.
To answer your question if improving diet quality could improve your quality of life, the overwhelming data we did find might be an indication that a healthy diet can improve the quality of life in an otherwise healthy population However, more research is needed to explore this link and spoiler alert, we are looking into it.
But what now? Based on the current evidence, consuming a healthy diet, rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains, will most likely make you feel better overall and will be a good investment for your future.
Helene Nauwelaers is a visiting researcher at the Food and Mood Centre from Maastricht University, Netherlands.