The link between what you eat and how you feel is stronger than ever.
Inflammatory foods are tied to higher depression risk
Certain foods help keep depression at bay
Dietary changes can make a difference
A high adherence to dietary advice for depression has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing depressive symptoms—including closely following a Mediterranean diet. This eating pattern is rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, pulses, and olive oil while severely limiting processed foods. In some populations, simply eating more fruits and vegetables has resulted in a 19%–23% improvement in mental health.
One 10-year study also found that among women, depression risk decreased with increased caffeinated coffee consumption. Researchers say the effect may be due to caffeine’s psychostimulant effects, including improved brain function, plus increased sensations of energy and well-being.
Another 2020 study, published in the British Medical Journal Nutrition, Prevention & Health, concluded that probiotics, either taken alone or combined with prebiotics, might help to ease depression symptoms. The relationship is due to what’s known as the gut-brain axis—communication between the brain and digestive tract, specifically the microbiome, the collection of microbes that live in the gut. Positive changes to the type and balance of gut microbes has been shown to help reduce inflammation, improve immune function, and elevate mood.
Better nutrition helps everyone
The food/mood connection is unquestionable. Even if you aren’t being treated for a mental health condition, upgrading your nutritional status can help you cope with stress—something we’re all dealing with these days. And improving your diet for better mental health offers other positive outcomes, including potential weight loss, and improvements in immune function, blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, as well as insomnia.
To learn more about personalized nutritional psychiatry, consider scheduling a consult with a registered dietitian. While a dietitian can’t diagnose or treat you for mental health conditions, she or he can collaborate with your doctor and educate you about the connections between certain foods, nutrients, eating patterns, and your mental health.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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