Following a diet rich in produce and low in processed meats - even if you don't do it perfectly - may be helpful in preventing depression, according to a large new study.
Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, study author and field expert from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, gave a statement saying that people who would like to lower their chances of experiencing depression "can eat everything, but everything in moderation" as long as they make sure to add a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish to their diets.
The study focussed on the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and the Alternative Eating Index-2010 to determine to the role of nutrition in our mental health. In fact, her team had already explored the effect of the Mediterranean Diet on depression risk in previous work, findings that it had a "protective effect" while fast-food and fatty acids were found to be "detrimental".
Foods like meats and candies received a negative score, and nuts, fruits and vegetables were positively scored. With the premise that what we eat affects our state of mind, this means that protection from mental diseases can also be provided by what we consume.
The participants completed questionnaires every two years for the study period, and were scored for their mental health and how well they stuck with their diet plan.
They experienced the same likelihood of developing depression as the subjects who held on to their healthy eating patterns to a moderate degree. Although the researchers controlled for individuals' exercise habits, supplement use, weight status, and history of chronic diseases by building these factors into their statistical model, this method isn't ideal and may not completely cancel out the impact that other lifestyle habits have on mental health. This diet includes a high amount of vegetables, fruits, whole-grain bread, nuts, legumes, omega-3s and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
And the more extreme your diet, the worse these effects: "When you don't eat enough your blood sugar levels get really low, triggering the release of hormones such as adrenaline", says Foster.
Researchers from the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project which began in 1999, found out that a diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and olive oil could prevent the occurrence of depression.
A limitation of this study was that the results are based on self-reported dietary intake and a self-reported clinical diagnosis of depression.
In spite of the benefits of the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010, the researchers didn't see any increased benefits when the diet is followed consistently.