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Can You Fight Depression by Eating the Mediterranean Way?

When depressed college kids tried eating the Mediterranean way, they began feeling better. Less junk food meant lower scores on a depression scale.
Can You Fight Depression by Eating the Mediterranean Way?
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Epidemiologists have long known that people who eat a lot of junk food are more vulnerable to depression. Australian researchers have just conducted a study to see whether improving diet also improves mood (PLoS One, Oct. 9, 2019). They wanted to know whether eating the Mediterranean way would make a difference for young adults.

What Happens When Young People Start Eating the Mediterranean Way?

The investigators recruited 74 college students assessed as having “moderate or higher depression symptoms.” In addition, only students whose responses to a dietary questionnaire indicated food choices high in sugar and fat participated in the study. Actually, 101 young adults began the study, but some dropped out along the way.

For three weeks, the students randomly assigned to eating the Mediterranean way ate more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. They tried to devour more fish instead of beef and olive oil in place of butter. They also consumed fewer soft drinks, refined carbs and high sugar foods. At the same time, the researchers encouraged them to add more nuts and seeds, unsweetened dairy products and spices to their daily menus. 

The control group continued with their usual poor eating patterns. At the close of the study, 38 students in each group had followed through and provided complete data. The researchers were careful to avoid exam period so that they wouldn’t add to the students’ stress.

How Did the Students Fare on a Mediterranean Diet?

The students in the Mediterranean diet group experienced an improvement in their depression symptoms. By the end of the study, their scores on a standardized depression scale were within the normal range. Although the dietary intervention was brief (just three weeks), the students were still doing well three months later. Students who cut back most on processed foods got the biggest improvement.

The control group had no significant changes in their depression scores and continued to be moderately depressed.

The scientists concluded:

“The current intervention involved such a small degree of face-to-face contact and very little cost or risk, thus there are few downsides to adopting this approach to improving mood. Conversely, there is a lot to gain not just in terms of improvements to mood but also in enhanced physical health outcomes.”

Further, the lead author told media sources,

“It’s not a cure, but it’s certainly a significant improvement.”

Learn More:

If you wonder how you could start eating the Mediterranean way, we have a few resources to help. We have written about the Mediterranean diet here, here and here. In addition, we offer guidelines on a Mediterranean eating pattern in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Francis HM et al, "A brief diet intervention can reduce symptoms of depression in young adults – A randomised controlled trial." PLoS One, Oct. 9, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222768
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