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Enjoy a Vegetable-Rich Diet to Prevent Depression

A vegetable-rich diet that resembles the DASH eating pattern can help lower blood pressure, prevent kidney stones, discourage diabetes and reduce the risk of depression.

A vegetable-rich diet is known as DASH, for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This eating plan has been shown to help people control their blood pressure. That, in turn, helps reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes. People who follow a DASH diet are less likely to develop diabetes, heart failure and kidney stones.

A Vegetable-Rich Diet Helps Fight Depression:

Now, scientists from Rush University have evidence that eating lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and skimping on meats and sweets can also help reduce the risk of depression. Their study of nearly 1,000 older adults lasted more than six years. Every year the volunteers answered questions about their eating habits and filled out questionnaires that would reveal depression.

How Good Is a Vegetable-Rich Diet?

According to the investigators, people who followed the DASH diet best were 11 percent less likely to become depressed during the study. They plan to present their results at the American Academy of Neurology 70th annual meeting, in Los Angeles in April, 2018. We hope they will publish a full report later. At this point, we have the abstract for the study.

Because this is an observational study, we can’t draw cause-and-effect conclusions regarding a vegetable-rich diet. However, the multiple health benefits of following a DASH diet means that is a low-risk recommendation.

Previous Evidence on a Vegetable-Rich Diet:

Here are a few summaries of prior research findings on how the DASH diet affects health.

DASH Plus Exercise Lowers Blood Pressure:

The DASH diet includes multiple daily servings of vegetables and fruits as well as low-fat dairy products and whole grains. Over the years, the DASH diet has been shown to lower blood pressure. A new study demonstrates that following a DASH diet together with exercising and losing weight is even better for improving blood pressure and cardiovascular health (Blumenthal et al, JAMA Internal Medicine, Jan. 25, 2010).

The volunteers were healthy overweight people. They were randomly assigned to follow very different regimens. Some continued with their usual diet. Others followed a standard DASH diet. A third group used a DASH diet plus exercise to lose weight. In addition, the researchers counseled them on cognitive behavioral strategies to promote weight loss.

What Were the Effects of Diet and Exercise?

Those in the weight loss group lost an average of 19 pounds during the four-year study. They also became more fit, presumably because of the exercise. Blood pressure was lowered by 16 over 10 points, compared to 11 over 8 points on the standard DASH diet. Volunteers in the usual care group lowered their blood pressure by about 3 to 4 points. The investigators conclude that the DASH diet plus exercise and weight loss can have as profound an impact on blood pressure control as aggressive drug treatment.

DASH Diet Discourages Diabetes:

Following a vegetable-rich diet reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Liese et al, Diabetes Care, Aug. 2009). Type 2 diabetes has become increasingly common over the past few years. This disease, in which the body becomes resistant to insulin, was once called adult-onset diabetes, but it is not unusual for adolescents to develop it these days. A 5-year study of about 900 people discovered that those whose diets were richest in vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products were least likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

DASH Diet Protects Kidneys:

The DASH diet seems to reduce the likelihood of developing kidney stones (Taylor, Fung & Curhan, Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Oct. 2009). This research utilized the power of the Health Professionals Followup Study, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Nurses’ Health Study II. More than 200,000 people filled out diet questionnaires every few years for 14 to 18 years. Those whose diets had the most vegetables, fruits and legumes and the least red meat were at least 40 percent less likely to develop a kidney stone. That is notable because they were consuming more calcium and oxalate as well as more potassium, magnesium and vitamin C as well as less sodium. High intakes of calcium and oxalate are usually thought of as risk factors for kidney stones. However, the vegetable-rich diet reduced the chance of a kidney stone substantially.

This finding was not an anomaly. More recently, scientists tracked 14,000 volunteers in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study for 23 years (Rebholz et al, American Journal of Kidney Diseases, Dec. 2016). They had good measures of kidney function as well as of dietary habits. Those who followed a DASH-like eating pattern were least likely to develop kidney disease. Avoiding meat, especially processed meat, was particularly helpful. Eating plenty of nuts, legumes and low-fat dairy products appears to be protective.

In addition, recent data from the investigators of the Health Professionals Followup Study and the Nurses’ Health Studies demonstrates that drinking plenty of fluids–and avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages–can reduce the probability of kidney stones (Ferraro et al, Journal of Urology, Oct. 2017).

One reader, Kjirstin, discovered this on her own.

In 2010, she wrote:

“I’m almost a vegetarian, eat plenty of fruits, veggies and legumes, no red meat, with fish twice per week and chicken only now and then. I still get kidney stones every three to six weeks. Go figure.

“Thankfully, they are the calcium type, and I drink a full glass of straight lemon juice (hey, it beats the stones, okay?) at the first sign of flank pain when I know one is coming on, and I eliminate the nausea and most of the heaviest pain. It sure beats the $3,000 bill from the emergency room with the MRI to tell me what I already knew! The best part? No painkillers needed, and I can continue to function. Yeah!

“The concentrated stuff in the green bottles works just as well as fresh-squeezed juice, so I keep it in my fridge always. If you get frequent kidney stones of the common calcium type, you owe it to yourself to try this cure before rushing off to the hospital.”

Two and a half years later, she reported:

“Just wanted to let everyone know I have eliminated my kidney stones now. I haven’t had one for over a year. What did I do? Cut way down on sugar, drink LOTS of water every day, and I found if I felt the flank pain coming on to signal another stone, it only took me 1/3 to 1/2 cup of lemon juice to make it go away. It works!

“P.S. I fired my kidney doctor. He had bowls of candy in his waiting room!”

Learn More:

If you would like guidance on following a DASH diet, why not consult our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies? We include details on a DASH diet, a Mediterranean diet and a low-carb diet. You can also learn more about a vegetable-rich diet at this website: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan

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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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