WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
What you eat profoundly impacts all aspects of your health, both physical and mental. New research demonstrates that dietary patterns influence a person’s risk of developing depression.1
WHAT THIS MEANS
Nutritional epidemiology studies the relationship between diet and the development and prevention of non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer. Until recently, researchers did not explore the impact of diet on mental health outcomes. Mental health is the cornerstone of a person’s overall health, happiness, and wellbeing. Depression is a serious illness, affecting nearly 15 million Americans each year and severely diminishing their quality of life. In addition, depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for those ages 15 to 44.2
Due to the deficit of knowledge regarding the role of dietary patterns in mental health, researchers have turned their attention to the subject. Diet quality does seem to play an important role in mental health outcomes, and there appear to be specific dietary patterns that ensure high-quality mental functioning and flourishing throughout the lifespan. Though current evidence is limited, studies have shown that protective dietary patterns associated with a reduced risk of depression include those diets that emphasize seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts. One question remains largely unanswered, however: is there a difference between various dietary patterns, or a dose-response curve, and the risk of depression?
To answer this question, researchers collected data on several specific dietary patterns and depression diagnoses in a study based on Spanish university graduates. The aim of the project is to identify dietary and lifestyle determinants of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease and depression, among other conditions. The project began in 1999, assessing diet quality and mental health status at baseline and then followed-up 10 years later. In addition, follow-up information is gathered through postal or internet-based questionnaire surveys collected every two years.
Three dietary patterns were specifically identified for the study: the Mediterranean diet, the pro-vegetarian diet and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. Each participant answered the dietary questionnaire and their responses were scored in terms of their consumption of vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts, fish and seafood, meat and meat products, eggs, cereals, dairy products, whole grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, sodium, fat, and alcohol intake. Those who more strictly adhered to the guidelines of each dietary pattern received a higher score.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This study shows that those who moderately to strictly adhere to balanced, nutritious eating patterns that emphasize fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and seafood showed risk reductions of depression by 25-30%. There was no difference between moderately or strictly adhering to any of the dietary patterns, meaning that strictly adhering to a specific dietary pattern offered no additional lowered risk of depression. Those who least adhered to the healthy dietary patterns did not experience any reduced risk of depression.
These findings suggest that a diet doesn’t have to be perfect in order to reap some mental health benefits!
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