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Sustain / Food & Mental Health

Policy recommendations

Chemicals labelThese recommendations appear in our report, Changing Diets, Changing Minds, and were published in January 2006.

The Government as a whole, and all relevant departments and agencies, should officially recognise the links between diet and mental health and incorporate this recognition into all food and mental health-related policy and practice. For instance, general healthy eating campaigns such as five-a-day should always include a mental health component.

In August 2006, Rosie Winterton, then Minister of State for Health Services, in releasing a best practice guidance for improving the physical health of people with severe mental illness, stated that a “balanced diet can help to maintain and protect people's mental well-being”.

Because the diet that is good for the brain is also the same diet that is good for the body, government should increase financial and political support for measures to ensure that sustainable supplies of a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods are available, affordable and attractive for people to obtain both now and in the future.


1. The UK population and particular groups who are at increased risk of mental health problems should be provided with information about foods that promote their mental, emotional and physical well-being.

2. United Kingdom Health Departments should review and improve the food and nutrition standards for the mental health and social care sectors, in light of the evidence that a range of nutrients contribute to mental health and wellbeing.

3. Organisations that commission mental health services should include within commissioning criteria and service specifications food and nutrition standards for any services that provide food.

4. Annual monitoring of food and nutrition standards across the health and social care sector should be incorporated into current performance assessment mechanisms.

5. Primary care should have ready access to information on the link between diet and mental health as well as a working knowledge of the information and expertise available to support people through dietary change.

6. Secondary mental health service staff should have ready access to nutrition specialists for liaison and consultation.

7. All existing NHS and social care facilities that provide meals to service users, including the independent and not-for-profit sector, should instigate sustainable food policies and practices, so that all service users and staff are encouraged to choose diverse and culturally appropriate meals, snacks and drinks that promote their mental, emotional and physical well-being.

8. All prison facilities should instigate sustainable food policies and practices so that all residents and staff are encouraged to choose culturally diverse and appropriate meals, snacks and drinks that promote their mental, emotional and physical well-being.

9. Research funding bodies should co-ordinate their strategies and increase the grants available to investigate the relationship between diet and mental health, particularly the effectiveness of interventions.

10. Regulations should be introduced to support the promotion of healthy food to children, and to protect them from all forms of broadcast and non-broadcast marketing of unhealthy food.

11. Practical food skills, including cooking and growing, should be reintroduced as a compulsory part of the national curriculum.

12. The progressive approach to ensuring better food in school meals should be continued and in addition access to free water dispensers should be available to all children by 2007.

13. Targets should be introduced to reduce unhealthy levels of fat, sugar and salt in processed food, and to remove damaging trans fats from food ingredients and food products. As an interim measure, manufacturers should be encouraged to label clearly the nutritional quality of and ingredients in their products.

14. Agricultural policy development should be informed by what is known of its nutritional impact and its subsequent effect upon our mental as well as physical health. Specifically, support must be increased for organic farming, the production and promotion of fruit and vegetables and other micronutrient-rich foods and for alternative sources to oily fish of omega-3 fats. Moreover, government policy on promoting fish consumption needs to change to promoting only sustainable sources of oily fish, with low levels of toxicity.

Other Sustain projects and campaigns are helping to make progress with some of these policies.  Details can be found on the rest of our website.

Food & Mental Health: The project promotes understanding of the links between good diet and mental wellbeing, addressing the many implications of the growing evidence linking what we eat to the way we feel and behave.

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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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