A new study published in Nutritional Neuroscience shows that Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, fish oil and extra virgin olive oil can improve mental health and help people suffering depression.
The study by researchers from the University of South Australia showed that as volunteers improved their diet, their depression was substantially reduced and reported improved quality of life.
UniSA Senior Research Fellow, Dr Natalie Parletta, who led the study says “People tend to be skeptical about associations between diet and mental health,”
“This is one of the first randomised controlled trials worldwide to show a causal effect.
Research Fellow Parletta commented that it makes sense that diet can impact mental health. This is because the human brain needs nutrients and other dietary factors to work well.
She said that it’s time that diet and lifestyle changes are considered at the forefront of treatment options for both physical and mental health both of which are closely related.
“What’s more, we have shown that with expert advice on nutrition and group cooking workshops teaching how to prepare simple, yummy, cost-effective meals – healthy diets are achievable.” Said Ms Parletta.
The study involved volunteers aged 18-65 who suffered from depression who had been randomly allocated to a Mediterranean diet group or a social group – because peer support can also help with depression.
The Mediterranean diet group received education in nutrition and fortnightly cooking workshops for three months, while the other group met for fortnightly social gatherings.
Both groups showed improved mental health, but reduced depressive symptoms were significantly greater in the diet group.
Better mental health was correlated with healthier diet, strengthening the notion that diet was a key contributor.
Improvements in both diet and depression were still seen when volunteers were followed up three months after the study finished.
Dr Parletta says she is excited by the findings.
“This research has important implications for people suffering from depression – a debilitating condition that affects around a million Australians in any one year and carries the largest burden of disease worldwide,” she says.
“It is fantastic to be able to offer people significant help through simple dietary changes.”