How The Mediterranean Diet Affects Mental Health

By Kelly Burch 01/28/19

A new study found that certain foods correlated with better moods.

Women on the Mediterranean diet eating salad

The old saying "you are what you eat" could ring true for people with depression, according to a recent scientific review, which found that eating a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of depression by as much as a third. 

According to ABC 30, researchers analyzed 41 studies that looked at how food affected people’s moods. The researchers found that people who ate Mediterranean diets were 33% less likely to be depressed. 

Mediterranean diets place an emphasis on eating fruits, vegetables, legumes and other plants, according to Healthline. The diet encourages eating fish over red meat and—perhaps most importantly for mental health—incorporates plenty of healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and nuts. 

"Especially the omega three fatty acids—those are known to have pretty clear effects with depression," said Charles Conway, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. Conway has researched more modern approaches to treating depression, including vagus nerve stimulation, but found that one's diet is still important for mental health. 

The researchers found that certain foods correlated with better moods, including avocados, berries, tomatoes, leafy greens, walnuts, seeds, and beans. Many of these are part of a Mediterranean diet. 

However, foods that are associated with a modern Western diet could make depression symptoms worse or increase the risk of depression. These include processed foods, sugar and artificial sweeteners, and saturated fats. 

Omega-3 fatty acids have long been associated with brain health and boosting one's mood. A 2014 review found that people who consume these “good fats” are less likely to be depressed.  

“Among the biological properties of omega-3 PUFA, their anti-inflammatory effects and their important role on the structural changing of the brain should be taken into account to better understand the possible pathway through which they can be effective both in preventing or treating depression,” study authors wrote.  

The authors concluded that there needs to be a better understanding of how to integrate these healthy fats into a Western diet. 

“The problem of how to correct the inadequate supply of omega-3 PUFA in the Westernized countries' diet is a priority in order to set food and health policies and also dietary recommendations for individuals and population groups,” they wrote. 

In addition to eating a healthy diet, Conway said that exercising is also an effective way to reduce your risk of depression and control symptoms. 

“Pushing yourself to exercise regularly probably helps with some degree of mood improvement," he said. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.