Newswise — BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Healthy dietary patterns are associated with higher frequency of exercise and mental wellbeing in young adults, according to new research led by faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York. 

“Young adults are known to be at a higher risk for mental distress,” said Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University. “The impact of diet on mood has been highlighted in previous studies. However, most studies depicting the role of nutrients on mood were performed on a wide-range of ages, and generalized the results to both sexes.”

The researchers invited adults aged 18–29 years to complete a food-mood questionnaire. The anonymous questionnaire was distributed to several institutional listservs and via several social media platforms targeting young adults. A multi-level analysis, including machine learning techniques, was used to assess these relationships. The results suggest that, for young men and women, healthy dietary patterns are associated with higher frequency of exercise and mental wellbeing, and vice-versa. However, this study also investigated the impact of food groups and exercise within a dietary pattern on mental wellbeing. 

“The study fills several gaps in the literature, namely that exercise significantly mediates the effect of food groups to promote mental wellbeing,” said Begdache. “Another interesting hypothesis generated from our results is that despite following a healthy diet and lifestyle, if triggers of mental distress (such as caffeine) exceed certain thresholds, mood is negatively impacted. Additionally, the results provide compelling evidence that mental health is modulated not only by a dietary pattern but by the weight (concentration) of food groups and exercise frequency, which needs further investigation.” Another interesting observation is that exercise may be mediating the effect of food. For instance, exercise within a healthy dietary pattern maximizes the beneficial effect of healthy food and minimizes the impact of triggers.

Begdache said that it would be good to use the information gained from this research to tailor dietary intake based on sex to optimize mental wellbeing. Diet and mood recording may be helpful to pinpoint the potential triggers or preventers of mental distress.

Going forward, the researchers are studying the impact of stress and comparing some dietary factors between athletes and non-athletes to study the impact of exercise.

Also contributing to this research were Helen Najjar from the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering at Binghamton University; former Binghamton University undergraduate student Dylan F. Witt; Hamed Kianmehr from the University of Florida; and Nasim S. Sabounchi from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.

The paper, “A Differential Threshold of Breakfast, Caffeine and Food Groups May Be Impacting Mental Well-Being in Young Adults: The Mediation Effect of Exercise,” was published in Frontiers in Nutrition.

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