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Eating your way to wellbeing

University of Canterbury Clinical Psychologist Prof Julia Rucklidge has long recognised the critical role of nutrition in mental health. She has spent more than a decade building a case for revolutionising the way we treat mental illness.



Later this month she is joining Sam Johnson and Ben Warren for ‘Building Blocks for Resilience’, a seminar which looks to share strategies to increase your personal resilience and manage stress.

Metropol caught up with Prof Rucklidge about supporting our mental wellbeing through nutrition.

How did you first become interested in the link between nutrition and mental wellbeing?

In short, it was because my PhD supervisor in Southern Alberta, Canada in the early 1990s was approached by some families who suggested we could treat very serious psychiatric disorders through nutrition. As a scientist, even if an idea seems wild and wacky and contravenes popular belief, then it’s our duty to explore whether there is any scientific validity and the fact is, not enough people are getting well with current treatments.

How critical is this connection?

What the research reveals is that we should all care about having a good nutritional foundation and if we can ensure everyone has a good nutritional foundation, some mental health struggles would probably disappear.

While poor nutrition is not the only cause of mental illness, it is a pretty big risk factor. Research points to a strong link between good nutrition and good brain health, and suggests some people are not getting enough nutrients from their food alone.

The ‘why’ is a complex issue, but one of the easiest things to point to is that our diet has changed massively in a short period of time and now consists of many ultra-processed foods which are calorie-rich but nutrient-poor.

About two-thirds of the supermarket products are ultra-processed foods which are simply not good for our health – physically or mentally.

What are some practical ways we can support our mental health through nutrition?

I think it’s fairly simple – eat whole foods; foods your grandma would recognise; fruit and vegetables; healthy fats; fish is definitely up there once or twice a week; eating grains; complex carbs – so things like black beans, lentils, quinoa; ensuring you get nuts, which are a very nutrient-dense food; so ensuring most of your diet is coming from these types of food, alongside reducing your consumption of ultra-processed foods, so potato chips, corn chips, processed cereals and some takeaways.

For some people however, all this is simply not adequate enough to provide for the nutrient needs of the brain, so supplementation can play a role.

Research is pretty clear on B vitamins; this is a simple way to become more resilient to chronic stress.

Stress is a nutrient depleter, so your need for nutrients goes up in times of stress and you need to match that with your intake of nutrients from food. Sleeping well, exercising, meditation, mindfulness, breathing – these types of things can also be really useful.

While medication can be beneficial for some people, we need to move away from it being the typical go-to.

The Building Blocks for Resilience will be held at the Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College, 12 Winchester Street, on Thursday 27 August, 7-9pm. Proceeds go towards supporting Prof Rucklidge’s lab, Te Puna Toiora, the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group.


City’s newest super sleuth

A day at the office can mean interviewing gang members or quizzing politicians for young journalist Katie Harris, one of the city’s newest super sleuths.


Katie, who grew up in Hillsborough, Christchurch, has just won the DW Bain Prize as the top student in the University of Canterbury (UC) Postgraduate Diploma of Journalism class.

She first broke a story about the first all-female chapter of Waikato’s Mongrel Mob Kingdom while she was still a student.

UC Media and Communication Senior Lecturer, Tara Ross, says Katie was outstanding from the beginning.

“She stood out early for her curiosity, drive and hunger for news. She was unafraid of tackling hard stories and, I don’t doubt, can go far in journalism.”

Katie has already found work as a journalist for New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) at Newstalk ZB in Wellington, and this month she is travelling to Jakarta, Indonesia to work for six weeks after being awarded a media internship through the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

“I knew I wanted to be a journalist as soon as I started studying Media Communications at UC,” she says.

“I don’t know what other job I could do because I think I would get bored. This job is always changing and it’s always exciting. It’s definitely a tough industry but it’s good.”

Katie is drawn to “hard news” and first made contacts with Mongrel Mob Kingdom members from Hamilton when they came to UC to give a lecture to Criminal Justice Programme students in September 2019.

“I was never really an academic person before but I feel like I’ve found my niche and it shows anyone can succeed at what they do if they find something they’re passionate about and they work hard.”

Her dream is to one day work as a foreign correspondent and, with that in mind, she has been learning Arabic in the hope that she might one day be based in the Middle East.

She spent a month in the Czech Republic in August 2018 studying a paper in foreign correspondence journalism.

The adventurous young woman is also a keen surfer and she edited a youth magazine launched earlier this year called Yo, Vocal.