Could switching from an unhealthy diet lift your mood? The latest research suggests that it probably can.

Observational findings

Although many versions of healthful diets exist, evidence from observing population groups suggests that people with a high intake of unprocessed plant foods have a reduced risk of depression, while those whose diets comprise highly processed foods, including those from plant ingredients and sugary products, have an increased risk of depression.

For example, a review of multiple studies of adults has shown that sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet is linked with a 30 percent reduced risk of depression, whereas regularly eating foods high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates is associated with poorer mental health in adults, adolescents, and children alike.

The clinical evidence

Now a new study from Australia called SMILES, published in BMC Medicine, provides clinical evidence that putting adults with “major depressive disorder” on a Mediterranean-style diet can ease their symptoms. And the benefits are in addition to what you can expect with medication and/or psychotherapy. After just three months, remission of major depression was observed in one-third of study participants who followed this diet, while only 8 percent of people who were given regular social support—which is also known to be helpful for depression—managed to get out of the dumps.

Healthful plant-based diets may provide brain benefits by targeting multiple mechanisms, including brain plasticity, gut microbiota, inflammation, and oxidative stress pathways, so nutrition is now being promoted for regular use in psychiatry.

Tips for a “happy diet”

  • Imitate “traditional” dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean, Norwegian, or Japanese diets.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain products, and nuts/seeds.
  • Include foods rich in omega-3, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and cauliflower.
  • Swap unhealthy choices for minimally refined, nutritious foods.
  • Avoid fast foods, candy, processed snacks, and commercial bakery products.

Food Matters: Dieting for Depression

by Sue Radd
From the March 2018 Signs