01 June 2023
Can a high salt diet contribute to low mood?
Mood is a term used to describe a person’s overall emotional state. It can be influenced by many biological or lifestyle factors, including hormone levels, stress, or a lack of sleep.
Mood contributes to someone’s mental health state. In England, 1 in 4 adults experiences at least one diagnosable mental health problem yearly. The most common mental health problems in the UK are anxiety and depression. A survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation also showed that 1 in 3 adults reported feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed in the previous 12 months.
The link between food and mood has been widely researched, and while the association is complex, it appears there is a link. Interestingly, a study of teenagers published in Physiological Reports found that those with a diet high in salt and low in potassium were more likely to suffer depression.
The study measured the excretion of sodium and potassium in teenagers and found that greater sodium excretion and lower potassium excretion predicted more severe depressive symptoms. In other words, higher salt and lower potassium intake contributed to the development of depressive symptoms.
Other studies have shown that a diet low in sodium and high in potassium can positively impact overall mood. Diets that follow this methodology, such as the DASH diet, have shown improvements in depression, tension, and vigour compared to moderate sodium and high potassium diet.
Potassium is an essential mineral involved in transmitting nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and regulating fluid balance in the body. The link between low potassium and mood disorders may be because low levels disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
The typical Western diet is laden with processed and ultra-processed foods that are low in essential nutrients, including potassium, and high in salt. In the UK, the average person consumes around 8.4g of salt daily, above the recommended 6g. The UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey has also shown that potassium intakes are lower than recommended. The average intake amongst adults is only 82% of the RDA, while 17% have very low intakes. Amongst teenagers, the average intake is just 68% of the RDA, while 28% have very low intakes.
A diet such as the Mediterranean is rich in unprocessed foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats will provide you with plenty of potassium. These foods are also naturally low in salt. Research has also shown that the Mediterranean diet can help to reduce the risk of depression. An extensive review of 26 studies published in Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research found enough evidence to support an association between the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of depression.
Modifying your diet can support your health in many ways, including reducing high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. Adopting a healthier diet may also help reduce the risk of mood disorders, but this is just one of many factors contributing to poor mental health.
Mrug, S., Orihuela, C., Mrug, M., & Sanders, P. W. (2019). Sodium and potassium excretion predict increased depression in urban adolescents. Physiological reports, 7(16), e14213. https://doi.org/10.14814/phy2.14213
Torres, S. J., Nowson, C. A., & Worsley, A. (2008). Dietary electrolytes are related to mood. The British journal of nutrition, 100(5), 1038–1045. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114508959201
Yin, W., Löf, M., Chen, R., Hultman, C. M., Fang, F., & Sandin, S. (2021). Mediterranean diet and depression: a population-based cohort study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 18(1), 153. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-021-01227-3
Altun, A., Brown, H., Szoeke, C., & Goodwill, A. (2019). The Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Depression risk: A systematic review. Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research, 33, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.npbr.2019.05.007