HELFIMED was set up to investigate cardiometabolic and mental health benefits of a healthy Mediterranean-style diet – that is high in vegetables, fruit, olive oil, legumes, cereals, nuts, seeds and fish, with moderate red wine consumption, and low in processed food, meat, and vegetable oils. A distinguishing feature of the Mediterranean diet is the use of olive oil; many of the other foods are found in traditional diets across Asia, India, Africa and the Middle East, inspiring an endless variety of flavours that can be enjoyed along with good health.
This endeavour was born out of a partnership between the Trevor Parry Centre (TPC; Community Rehabilitation Centre), Mental Health Directorate, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network; and the University of South Australia, blending together the UniSA team’s research focus on nutrition and diet for physical and mental health, and the Southern Mental Health team’s commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of their consumers.
There is widespread concern regarding the detrimental effects of modern, typically Western dietary patterns, i.e. excessive consumption of food that is energy dense and nutritionally poor, and inadequate intake of whole, unprocessed foods containing essential nutrients, on physical health and obesity. Mediterranean-style diets have been associated with improved cardiovascular health and decreased mortality, protective benefits for cancer, obesity and diabetes and sustainable weight loss.
However relatively little attention has been given to the implications of these dietary patterns for society’s mental health problems – which afflict around 1 in 4 people at some stage during their lifetime. This lack of attention to the role of diet in mental health is surprising given the brain’s requirements for essential nutrients from food for its development, structure and ongoing function.
Research indicates that, in particular, mental health consumers with severe and enduring mental health diagnosis and who constitute about 3% of the population have higher rates of chronic disease, particularly diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, than the general population. This leads to reduced life expectancy of up to 25 years in people with severe and enduring mental illness.
We aim to help raise awareness around the importance of a healthy diet for both physical and mental health and wellbeing, focusing on populations who may not have acquired the cooking skills and education required to cook – and enjoy – healthy foods and the associated wellbeing and life satisfaction that comes with feeling and looking good.
We thank the organisations shown below for their support, and also Vifor Pharma for their generous supply of fish oil capsules.