Guest article by Sam Hadadi
From rainbows of fruit and vegetables to platefuls of oily fish, legumes and nuts, we’re often told that enjoying a Mediterranean diet is the key to a healthy, happy body.
Yet while most of us will know that a diet full of European goodness can help us to lose weight and shape up, did you know that it could also prevent depression too?
Well, prepare to have your minds blown! Incredibly, the Mediterranean diet may be just as beneficial to our brain as it is our body, or at least according to brand new research published in the journal BMC Medicine.
In fact, the study, which examined an impressive 15,093 people, went as far as to suggest that depression could be linked to poor nutrition – something which we can easily improve and change.
After ploughing years into researching our diet and its effect on physical health, science types are now looking to examine the effect nutrition can have on our mental health. However, this brand new study was one of the first times that healthy dietary patterns and their association with the risk of depression were looked at in one go.
During the study, researchers compared three diets - the Mediterranean diet, a pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (a measure of diet quality). Participants (all free from depression at the start of the research) were asked to use a scoring system to measure how well they stuck to their preferred diet.
Foods such as meat and sugary sweets were negatively scored, while nuts, fruits and vegetables (wonderful sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) were positively scored.
As the lead researcher, Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, said: "We wanted to understand what role nutrition plays in mental health, as we believe certain dietary patterns could protect our minds.
“These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health.
"The protective role is ascribed to their nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) could reduce the risk of depression."
Questionnaires to assess diets were completed at the start of the project, and again after 10 years.
Astonishingly, a massive 1,550 of the participants had been given a clinical diagnosis of depression, or had turned to anti-depressants, at some point during the decade.
While those following the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 saw the lowest risk of depression, the researchers thought that this could be explained by its similarity to the Mediterranean Diet.
You see, the brainiacs leading the study believe that a diet rich in omega-3s, vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts (seen in both the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 and the Mediterranean diets) may well reduce the risk of depression.
As Almudena Sanchez-Villegas said: "The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression.
“However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets. So, once the threshold is achieved, the reduced risk plateaus even if participants were stricter with their diets and eating more healthily.”
While the study results may be unreliable since they were based on self-reported dietary intake, here at Lucy Bee, we know that eating well is great for the body and mind. If you want to embrace the Mediterranean diet, then here’s how…
Simple, really – it’s all in the name! If you want to enjoy a Mediterranean diet, you’ll need to embrace the deliciously healthy habits of people from countries scattered across the Mediterranean – think diet staples of Italians, the Greeks, Spaniards and even the French.
While your mind may be wandering to platefuls of pizza and pasta, stop right now! The foods these people eat will often depend on the region they’re from, but you can always expect plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, healthy grains, oil and fish. You also need to cut back on meats and dairy and add flavour to dishes using simple spices, herbs or even lemon juice.
In other words, you want to eat the Lucy Bee way – eat plenty of fresh, homegrown foods, ditch the processed foods, share meals with family and friends and, above all, enjoy!
So, now we know that the Mediterranean Diet may be effective at keeping depression at bay. But are there any other health benefits?
Well, yes! For starters, there’s heaps of evidence to suggest that eating this way can keep a healthy, happy heart, too. In fact, a 2013 study1 suggests that eating foods rich in omegas and healthy fats could slash our risk of strokes and heart attacks by a third – even in high-risk groups.
Since this diet is typically high in fibre, it’s also been linked to easing symptoms of type 2 diabetes (a good digestive system can prevent huge blood sugar spikes). A Mediterranean diet can even keep the elderly fit, healthy and moving, keep us living well into old age, halve the risk of Parkinson’s and also reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s.
Here at Lucy Bee, we like to keep our diet simple, natural and full of love – in true Mediterranean style! If you fancy making the swap and embracing the way to a healthy heart (and happy mind), here’s how you can reap the rewards:
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.