There are various diets that can promote weight loss or prevent different diseases, but experts still consider the Mediterranean diet to be one of the healthiest. According to a study, this particular diet is also linked to a lower risk of depression.
The study, which was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers from Deakin University, University College London (UCL), University Hospital of Montpellier, and the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
- Fruits (e.g., apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries)
- Legumes (e.g., beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas)
- Nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and walnuts)
- Vegetables (e.g., artichokes, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, kale, spinach, and tomatoes)
- Whole grains (e.g., barley, brown rice, and whole wheat)
This diet also uses healthy oils like olive oil. Instead of salt, dieters are encouraged to use herbs and spices to flavor foods. Steaks or other red meat should only be consumed a handful of times every month.
According to the results of this study, “a diet low in saturated fat, sugar, and processed foods can reduce the risk of depression by 24 percent over a 12-year period.” For the study, the researchers did a meta-analysis of over 1.5 million healthy adults.
The findings revealed that following a Mediterranean diet was linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality and overall mortality.
The researchers reviewed studies that used various dietary measures to gauge participant adherence to the Mediterranean diet such as the Dietary Inflammatory Index and the Healthy Eating Index.
Mental health and the Mediterranean diet
The researchers noted that a lower inflammatory index was linked with lower depression incidence in four longitudinal studies. Aside from a lower risk of depression, the Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, along with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The study findings also suggest that women on the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts could also have a lower risk of breast cancer. Because of these health benefits, several major scientific organizations advise healthy adults to have eating habits that mimic the Mediterranean diet.
Dr. Camille Lassale, a research associate at UCL and a member of the research team that conducted the study, said that a plant-based diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods “can help prevent depression.”
The researchers added that individuals who strictly followed a Mediterranean diet had a 33 percent lower risk of developing depression over the next eight to 12 years, unlike those who didn’t follow this diet. (Related: Mediterranean-style diet found to improve quality of life for people who are depressed.)
On the other hand, an unhealthy diet full of processed food, saturated fat, and sugar was linked to a higher risk of developing depression. The researchers also suggested that dietary advice should be part of mental health treatment, especially since an individual’s physical and mental well-being are often intertwined.
Change your eating habits to improve your mental health
Mary Fristad, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral health, psychology, and nutrition at The Ohio State University, believes the study was “a nicely done systematic review.” She shared that everyone seeks comfort food “on a short-term basis,” and that there is a link between healthy eating habits and depression.
However, Fristad warned that this link isn’t about cause and effect. The link between your diet and mental health is more about “changing the odds to be more in your favor,” especially since following a plant-based diet reduces inflammation in the brain.
Studies suggest that there is a link between inflammation in the brain and depression.
Fristad shared that she uses an educational approach on her patients called SEE, which stands for sleep, eating, and exercise. The professor noted that making positive changes to improve these three areas can improve the patient’s ability to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Fristad also highlighted the importance of avoiding inflammatory foods since inflammation can affect the brain. Inflammation can affect vasculation and increase insulin resistance.
Dr. Lassale concluded that there is also emerging evidence which suggests that the link between the gut and brain could have a crucial role in mental health. This axis is “modulated by gastrointestinal bacteria,” which can be modified by following a healthier diet.