Mood foods: could the Mediterranean diet help prevent depression?

Could a Mediterranean diet help prevent depression? [Photo: Getty]

The Mediterranean diet has long been hailed as a way of living longer and helping to lose weight, but now research suggests a diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts and fish could also prevent depression.

The study, by University College London and published in Molecular Psychiatry, analysed data from 41 previous studies examining the link between eating habits and mental health.

Researchers found that people who stuck to a diet resembling that of a traditional Mediterranean diet were a third (33%) less likely to develop depression within the next eight to 12 years than those whose diets were least similar.

Analysis focusing on saturated fat, sugar and processed food also showed that those following a diet low in these factors were a quarter (24%) less likely to develop depression over the same timescale.

Experts now believe a diet rich in fruit, veg, grains, fish, nuts and olive oil, but not too much meat or dairy could have benefits in terms of mood.

Five of the studies taken into account by the researchers looked at the the impact of an inflammatory foods diet on mental health in just over 32,000 adults across the world.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Camille Lassale, lead author the study, said: “There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health.

“This relationship goes beyond the effect of diet on your body size or other aspects of health that can in turn affect your mood.

“We aggregated results from a large number of studies and there is a clear pattern that following a healthier, plant-rich, anti-inflammatory diet can help in the prevention of depression. A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression.

“There is also emerging evidence that shows that the relationship between the gut and brain plays a key role in mental health and that this axis is modulated by gastrointestinal bacteria, which can be modified by our diet.”

Stephen Buckley, from mental-health charity Mind, told the BBC it was good advice to eat a healthy diet, get regular physical activity and cut down on foods such as alcohol and sugar that could have an impact on mood.

“It’s widely accepted that there’s a strong connection between what we eat and how we feel, with blood-sugar levels affecting our mood and energy,” he said.

“If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, it might be hard to focus on your health, or you may resort to unhelpful coping strategies, such as drugs or alcohol. If this is the case, you might benefit from other forms of treatment such as medication or talking therapies.”

Over the years, the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a whole host of health benefits:-

  • Breast Cancer – Last year it was revealed that following a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and olive oil can help reduce the risk of one of the worse types of breast cancer by up to 40 per cent.
  • Stroke risk – According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia, women aged 40 and above can reduce their chances of having a stroke by more than a fifth by following the Mediterranean diet.
  • Increasing longevity – By reducing your risk of developing heart disease or cancer with the Mediterranean diet, you could reduce your risk of death at any age by 20%.
  • Type 2 diabetes –  A Mediterranean diet is rich in fibre which digests slowly, preventing swings in blood sugar, and can help you maintain a healthy weight
  • Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and overall blood vessel health, which in turn may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

But, some research emerged recently which seems to have poured doubt on some of the diet’s weight-loss credentials.

Earlier this year a contradictory study seemed to prove the countries that have given their name to the famous diet actually have the biggest childhood obesity problems.

Data collected as part of the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative of the World Health Organisation’s European region, showed that the Med-coastal countries have the most overweight children in Europe.

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