Clinical evidence
A new study from Australia called SMILES, published in BMC Medicine, demonstrates that putting adults with “major depressive disorder” on a Mediterranean-style diet can ease their symptoms. And the benefits are on top of what you can expect from medication and/or psychotherapy alone. After just three months, remission of major depression was observed in one-third of study participants who followed this diet, while only 8 per cent of people who were given regular social support instead (also known to be helpful for depression) managed to recover.
Healthy, balanced plant-based diets may provide benefits by targeting multiple mechanisms, including brain plasticity, gut microbiota, inflammation and oxidative stress pathways, so psychiatrists are now beginning to include nutrition in their treatments.

In the real world
Although many versions of healthy diets exist, evidence from observing population groups suggests that people with a high intake of unproces­sed plant foods have a reduced risk of depression. But those with diets including highly processed foods and sugary products are at increased risk.
For example, a review of multiple studies of adults has shown that sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet is linked with a 30 per cent reduced risk of depression, whereas regularly eating foods high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates is associated with poorer mental health in adults, adolescents and children alike.

Tips for a “happy diet”
– Imitate “traditional” dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean, Norwegian or Japanese diet
– Eat more fruit, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain products and nuts/seeds
– Include foods rich in omega-3 (think walnuts, flaxseeds and/or fish)
– Swap unhealthy choices with minimally refined nutritious foods
– Avoid fast foods, confectionery, processed snacks and refined bakery goods.

-By Sue Radd

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