If you have depression, it’s time to swap junk food for actual food. For real, this time.
New Study Examines Link Between Diet & Depression
TLDR: Unhealthy eaters with moderate to severe depression who switched to a Mediterranean-inspired diet and attended nutritional counseling experienced an improvement in their mood after 12 weeks. In some cases, their depression went into remission.
The full details: This first-of-its kind study included 67 participants suffering from moderate to severe depression who reported eating an unhealthy diet – a low intake of dietary fiber, lean proteins and fruit/vegetables; and a high intake of sugar, salty snacks and processed meats. Most of the participants were also engaged in therapy and/or taking medication.
The participants were split into two groups. Those in the first were put on a modified version of the Mediterranean diet and attended nutritional counseling. Participants in the second group did not modify their diet, but were required to attend social support sessions.
Prior to the study, researchers assessed the participants’ depression symptoms using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale. After 12 weeks, people in the healthy diet group improved on average by 11 points; almost a third of these participants (32 percent) received scores low enough to meet remission criteria.
Depression ratings for the unhealthy eaters with only social support improved by approximately 4 percent. Only 8 percent of this group went into remission.
What Did They Eat to Feel Less Depressed?
Whole foods were the main emphasis of the plan.
“The diet was designed to be easy to follow, sustainable, palatable, and satiating,” the researchers noted in the study.
Participants were advised to eat:
- Whole grains (5-8 servings per day)
- Vegetables (6 per day)
- Fruit (3 per day)
- Legumes (3-4 per week)
- Low-fat, unsweetened dairy (2-3 per day)
- Raw, unsalted nuts (1 per day)
- Fish (at least 2 per week)
- Lean red meats (3-4 per week)
- Chicken (2-3 per week)
- Eggs (up to 6 per week)
- Olive oil (3 tablespoons per day)
They were also told to reduce their intake of sweets, fried food, sugary drinks and refined cereals. If participants drank alcohol, red wine – and only with a meal – was recommended.
One of the best parts? While we often hear that healthy eating costs more, the study revealed a 19 percent cost savings over the unhealthy diet.
Why You Should Care
By adding more of the good stuff to our diet, we decrease inflammation in the body and provide the brain with the necessary fat and nutrients (like omega-3s and Vitamin B) it needs to function properly. Refined carbohydrates should be avoided when possible – they can worsen our mood, and have been linked to depression in women.
It’s not easy to make lifestyle changes when we’re depressed. But improving our diet is one of the simplest ways to feel better quickly, and can be a manageable and affordable part of our treatment strategy – especially if therapy and medication aren’t quite cutting it.
And you gotta eat anyway.
How to Eat Healthy When You’re Depressed
Even an easy-to-follow diet can be difficult to manage when we’re depressed, but there are ways to eat healthy when you’re feeling defeated.
- Meal prep ahead of time: Some days are better than others right? On a “good” day, spend a little extra time cooking in batches. Freeze the extra portions and you’re good to go for a day when all you can muster is punching a few buttons on the microwave. A few options to consider: Broth-based soups, spicy tomato sauces and veggie burritos.
- Ask for help: When facing the masses at the grocery store feels impossible and boiling water drains your last ounce of energy, don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member to pick you up a few essentials or stop by to help you cook. Plus, it can’t hurt to have some company when you’re feeling low.
- Keep it simple: Healthy recipes are often the easiest to follow, requiring only a few ingredients and minimal clean up. Here’s an easy and super-quick stir-fry with lean meat and vegetables – cooked in just in one pan – to show you just how easy it is!
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