Feeling a bit down? New research suggests that a Mediterranean diet can help treat depression. Now that’s cause for celebration! The study suggests that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins may be able to treat major depressive episodes.
The researchers followed 67 Australian individuals with a history of depression and poor dietary habits. Study participants were randomly sorted into two groups. One group received dietary intervention, consisting of 60-minutes of Dietitian-lead nutrition one time per week. The second group received social support, otherwise known as ‘befriending’ or spending time with another individual discussing neutral topics, like sports, news or music. In addition to the interventions, both groups were being treated with a mixture of anti-depressive medication or therapy.
The dietary intervention group learned about the importance of eating a Mediterranean diet, including 5-8 servings of whole grains per day, 6 servings of vegetables per day, 3 servings of fruit per day, 3-4 servings of legumes per day, 2-3 servings of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods per week, 1 serving of raw and unsalted nuts per day, 2 servings of fish per week, 3-4 servings of lean red meats per week, 2-3 servings of chicken per week, 6 eggs per week and 3 tablespoons of olive oil per day. They were also encouraged to reduce their intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks to no more than 3 per week.
After 12 weeks of the intervention, the dietary support group showed a significantly greater improvement on the depression rating scale than the social support group. In other words, the participants who received dietary support felt less depressed. This study is still preliminary, but it suggests that changing one’s diet may actually be a useful tool in treating depression.
Eat The Mediterranean Way
The Mediterranean Diet has long been promoted for its many health benefits. Not only may it help fight depression, but research suggests that eating like a Greek can improve weight loss, control blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and dementia. Follow these tips to add more of the Mediterranean style of eating to your diet to reap the benefits.
- Use oil whenever possible, like in homemade salad dressings and marinades. Opt for oil instead of margarine or butter when roasting veggies or topping popcorn.
- Swap out chicken for fish two nights per week. Don’t get stuck in the boring old protein rut. Treat your family to an omega-rich serving of fresh fish.
- Add veggies to every plate—even breakfast. According to the USDA’s My Plate, every plate should consist of at least half fruits and vegetables. Since many of us don’t get that at breakfast, make an effort to add veggies to your morning smoothie, omelet or toast.
- Opt for whole grains. Luckily, the abundance of commercially available whole grains is at an all-time high. If you’re not in the mood for whole wheat bread or brown rice, try quinoa, oats, kamut, bulgur, farro, freekeh, sorghum or buckwheat.
- Go nuts! Replace the chips in your snack drawer with unsalted nuts. Walnuts are high in heart-healthy omegas, but any type of nut will do. Nuts are bit high in calories, so be cautious of the portion size—it’s usually about a handful or 20 nuts.
- Pick pulses. A group of superfoods made up of chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans, pulses are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. Try Meatless Monday by swapping out your dinner meat for a protein-packed pulse.
- Herb it up. Mediterranean food is rich in flavorful herbs, like oregano, dill and basil. Add herbs to roasted veggies, soups and salads to reduce the salt and add big flavors.
Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition à la Natalie.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.