Taking care of your mental health almost always calls for a multifaceted approach. In other words, it's not just about going to therapy, or just about changing your mindset. Of course, these things differ from person to person — for instance, things like my sleep schedule, how often I exercise and meditate, how I speak to myself, and even how I eat, are all basic elements that contribute to how I handle my depression. Interestingly, a large new study sought to find the best diet for your mental health, and while the results aren't totally conclusive just yet, the research suggests that following the Mediterranean diet may be extremely beneficial for your mood and mental well-being.
The research, which involved a review of 41 studies published in the last eight years, according to BBC News, showed a link between a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish (among other foods), and a lower chance of developing depression. In case you don't know, the Mediterranean diet, as per the Mayo Clinic, is defined as a way of eating that primarily focuses on "plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts," but also includes fish, poultry, and healthy fats like olive oil.
CNN reports that the study, which has been published in the scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that people who followed a way of eating that's consistent with the Mediterranean diet, on average, had a 33 percent lower chance of being diagnosed with depression compared to people who followed different ways of eating. Specifically, the study found that people whose diets were higher in inflammatory foods — think lots of red meat, alcohol, foods high in artificial sugar or trans fats, etc. — were more likely to be linked to diagnoses of depression.
Camille Lassale, a lead author of the study and research associate at University College London's department of epidemiology and public health, told CNN,
There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health. This relationship goes beyond the effect of diet on your body size or other aspects of health that can in turn affect your mood.
Now, it's important to point out that this research isn't saying there's a definitive, conclusive link between a lessened chance of depression and the Mediterranean diet. In other words, eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, etc., doesn't necessarily guarantee good mental health or a lower chance of being diagnosed with depression. As the researchers wrote in the conclusion of their review, "adhering to a healthy diet, in particular a traditional Mediterranean diet, and avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet is associated with reduced risk of depressive symptoms or clinical depression."
The thing is, there really do appear to be a lot of benefits, both mental and physical, to following a traditional Mediterranean diet. According to Harvard Health, the diet is associated with lower cholesterol levels, better heart health, and it might even help to reduce your risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer's.
However, as Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow (who was not involved in this research), told BBC News, it's important to emphasize that more studies need to be done on the mental health benefits of the Mediterranean diet to confirm these latest findings:
Whilst eating healthier is good for many reasons, we need more evidence before we can say plant-rich diets can improve mental health. The only way to prove whether the links are genuine is to conduct large randomized trials in people at risk of depression. Such trials would take considerable effort but seem worthwhile to conduct.
So what can you take away from this research? Well, for one thing, it's clear that the way you eat definitely plays a role, in one way or another, when it comes to your mental health. And maybe the Mediterranean diet, specifically, could serve as a way to support your mental well-being. The best thing you can do is talk to your own doctor about the foods in this diet, and how they might affect you as an individual.
Like I said, this way of eating has been linked to numerous health benefits, so even if you find that the diet doesn't really do much one way or another for your mental health, it can't hurt to pick up a few more fruits and vegetables the next time you're at the grocery store.