When considering how your food affects your health, it’s worth thinking beyond just your body—your dietary choices can also have a significant impact on your mind.
They can influence how your brain functions, keeping you sharp or speeding up your cognitive decline. They can also play a significant role in your mood, either giving you the boost you need to get through the day or leaving you in the doldrums.
Now, a new study suggests that sticking to the Mediterranean diet could help combat depression.
In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers looked at a group of nearly 7,000 older adults over a period of two years. All participants kept to a Mediterranean diet, with one group adhering to a calorie-restricted version of the diet and the other group having no such restrictions.
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Researchers found that participants in both groups saw a decrease in depressive symptoms, concluding that the connection between the diet and the mood disorder “deserves further research.”
“This study is strong because it is a longitudinal cohort, which allows for assessment of changes over time,” David Wiss, PhD, MS, RDN, CEO at Wise Mind Nutrition, tells Eat This, Not That!. “Too often, people associate nutrition with weight and changes in biomarkers. When nutrition is over-medicalized, people can overlook the potential for nutrition to improve mood.”
He adds that evidence supports the Mediterranean diet’s positive impact on depressive symptoms through “a wide range of pathways” and that the diet can help improve people’s quality of life.
Chelsea Jackle, MFN, RDN, LD, Nutritionist team lead at Cerebral, tells Eat This, Not That! that, while food can play an important role in how you feel, it is important to take a wider view of your mental health, incorporating mood-boosting habits and staying mindful of the factors outside of your control.
“There is definitely a connection between the food you eat and your mental health, but it isn’t always clear-cut,” she says. “While many studies link mental health conditions like depression to the foods we eat, these results aren’t always consistent. Your mental health is also affected by things like your genes, lifestyle, and environment. The foods you eat won’t cause or treat mental health conditions on their own, but they can be an important piece of the puzzle.”
For more on how the foods you eat can affect your emotional state, check out these 11 Foods That End Bad Moods.
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men’s Health, and Reductress. Read more