By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
The Mediterranean diet or style of eating is not just for cultivating healthy arteries anymore. Now researchers say it may reduce the risk of depression.
Image: © 2009 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust; (www.oldwayspt.org/)
A dietary pattern of eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, fish and olive oil appears to help people fend off clinical depression, according to a report in the October Archives of General Psychiatry, a publication under the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) group.
The study looked at mental depression in a sampling of people in Spain, where mental disorders are traditionally less prevalent than among people in Northern Europe.
Other studies have suggested that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats (in this case, olive oil), and lighter in saturated fats from meats and dairy foods, could help protect people against serious mental illnesses.
The Mediterranean style of eating has also been associated with reduced risk of obesity and heart issues. It’s considered to be a greener style of eating because it does not revolve around large portions of beef and other meats, which raise the carbon imprint of a diet because livestock requires extensive water, grains and fuel to bring to market. Plant-based eating, or diets lower in meat, are considered to be more sustainable. Health-wise, the Mediterranean diet has been popular for weight reduction, improving mental acuity and reducing the cholesterol that can lead to hardening of the arteries. It has been associated with longevity and reduced risk of some cancers. And, it has been popularized in many nutrition books and cookbooks.
The sample group of 10,000 healthy Spaniards in the study were followed over nearly five years. Researchers found that those who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet — defined as consuming a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids; moderate intake of alcohol and dairy products; low intake of meat; and high intake of legumes, fruit and nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish — had a 30 percent reduced rate of depression compared to those who did not ascribe to the diet.
The association did not change when the results were adjusted for other “markers of a healthy lifestyle,” such as marital status.
“The specific mechanisms by which a better adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern could help to prevent the occurrence of depression are not well known,” the authors write in the study report. Aspects of the diet may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-related cell damage. And all those factors could, in turn, reduce one’s chances of developing depression.
More likely, though, it is a combination of factors related to the overall diet that suppress the development of the mental illness.
“It is plausible that the synergistic combination of a sufficient provision of omega-three fatty acids together with other natural unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants from olive oil and nuts, flavonoids and other phytochemicals from fruit and other plant foods and large amounts of natural folates and other B vitamins in the overall Mediterranean dietary pattern may exert a fair degree of protection against depression,” the authors write.
Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, B.Pharm., Ph.D., of University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Clinic of the University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, led the study.
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